How to Grow as a Leader with the Enneagram (The Enneagram at Work)

Learn how using the Enneagram at work can help you to grow as a leader from our conversation with Zach Cochran.
The Enneagram at work

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About the guest:
Zach is the executive pastor at Sojourn Church J-Town in Louisville, KY. He also helps ministry leaders through coaching at Struggle Forward.

Podcast episode transcript ↓


Welcome to Big Ideas For Every Org. We help leaders discover powerful, big ideas that increase organizational impact.

I'm Josh, and today we're joined by Zach Cochran.

Zach is the executive pastor at Sojourn Church J-Town in Louisville, Kentucky, he also helps ministry leaders through coaching at

On this episode, we're talking about the Enneagram and how to use it to grow as a leader.

Look, there are many personality and skills assessments available today, but recently the Enneagram has emerged as a particularly helpful assessment, especially when it comes to leadership and team dynamics.

I mean, who among us would not want to grow in those areas?

The Enneagram can be a powerful tool to help you and your organization grow together and succeed.

Zach, thanks for joining us.


Yeah, man. It's great to be with you.

Great to talk about something I'm pretty passionate about.



So, today we're talking about how to grow as a leader with the Enneagram, but before we get there, just tell us a bit about yourself and your organization.


Yeah, so I serve as the executive pastor at Sojourn J-Town, serve as chief of staff, operator, implementer of vision and strategy here and chief culture officer.

We've been working really hard over the last couple years, just trying to shape culture here and trying to build a healthy, relational, effective culture in our staff, and Enneagram has been a great tool and I love serving people.

Helping them is one of the greatest passions of mine, in the Enneagram, through my work here and helping people outside of my church, doing that, it's been just one of the biggest blessings of my life.


That's awesome.

That's so cool too, what you said about helping people discover themselves, anyone who has gone through the Enneagram assessment, or has had any exposure to it will realize the gravity of that.


Terrifying. It's terrifying.

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Self-awareness and leadership in the workplace

leadership and the enneagram at work


Yes, very much so, but a journey that is good to take.

So, before we talk about the solution of Enneagram helping leaders gain self-awareness, tell us, how did you begin to see the problem associated with a lack of leadership, self-awareness?


Yeah, absolutely.

One of the things you discover as a leader is that, proximity creates exposure and you as a exposed leader, don't know what to do with that.

So, if you're married, it starts when you're marriage, you're exposed, you start seeing your own flaws, and then when you enter leadership you start managing people, you start being in charge of culture, you start feeling insecure, you start being critiqued, you start seeing yourself as less awesome as you actually are.

For me, when I started leading a whole staff, leading people, doing one on ones, and being critiqued and feeling exposed and feeling insecure, I just felt God's invitation for me to just see what that's about.

Who am I? How are people experiencing me?

And obviously I got that from mentors, from coaches, from valuable voices in my life, and one of the voices said, "once you discover who you are, be unashamedly you."

So the goal isn't to be ashamed of yourself, sometimes Enneagram could be used that way, or these personality tools to be, to shame yourself of, you're this or you're that, now the invitation is to know yourself, so you can be authentically, wonderfully, holistically you, for the good of society, for the good of your culture, for the good of the people.


Got it. Yes. Yeah. And I've seen that play out.

I've seen it play out in ministry, I've seen it play out across small business, and it's really interesting that once people begin to be exposed through leadership gaps, just how much they can learn through this assessment that says, "wow, that criticism was spot on."




Or, "wow, I really am leaning out in this area where I should be leaning in."



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Discovering the Enneagram

discovering the enneagram at work


So absolutely.

So, can you unpack for us how'd you discover the Enneagram and once you discovered it, how did you start implementing it even in your own life?



I was pretty critical of the Enneagram at first, because I was one of those guys that said, "we really Christianize, only the Bible can tell me who I am", but then I started being exposed and I fell in need for it.

So, I had people slightly introduce it to me, and then once I became in leadership, I went back to those voices, went back to those training, those books that were recommended, and I started diving into that.

And as I grew as a leader, I just felt the need to grow on my capacity, and I started getting pretty passionate about that.

One of the things I love is mentoring and coaching, and I started managing people, started doing one on one coaching, started helping people, and I said, "I need more tools to do this, and I need more tools for myself to grow."

So I started diving into coaching the Enneagram, and getting a certification in coaching in the Enneagram.

It was a slow trickle, and I resisted, then I felt the need for it, and then dove in head first, and eventually became an Enneagram coach.


Got it.

So, what was the process of implementing the Enneagram on your team at the time?


Yeah. So, when I started leading a group of people, I started just asking questions about their stories, about what makes them anxious, what makes them excite.

It starts one on one.

So if you started implementing a program, it gets wonky, because you don't get everybody bought in, you have to make it personal, I made it very personal.

I want to invest in people, I want you to be your most holistic self, I want you to flourish in your leadership, in your job, in your workplace.

So I started implementing it in one on ones and I said, "Hey, we're going to go through Enneagram one on one", and just, "Hey, will you take this a test?"

And we're going to look at that, and you look at these scores, and you start asking questions, you don't make judgements, you don't make assessments based on the numbers, you let the numbers force you to ask questions and the questions will reveal story, characteristics and just behaviors.

So I started implementing one on one and once I did it one on one, everybody knew the language and everybody knew how to relate to one another, and then once we knew more about Enneagram, we're able to interpret somebody's presence.




We're able to see, hey, they're doing this, not because they're mad at me, because they're really stressed out actually.




Or they feel angry right now, that person feels angry, but they're actually not angry, they're actually really sad.

And the Enneagram gave us language, common language to be able to relate to one another.

And ultimately, I would say, the ultimate goal of humanity is love, and so it enables us to relationally love one another at a higher capacity, because we know each other a lot better.

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Using the Enneagram at work to better understand your team

use the enneagram at work to understand your team


So, I'm sure there were challenges along the way in implementing this, and I love that your path was, "Hey, let me do this in a step by step process of one-on-ones with this individual contributor and then another one-on-one with this individual contributor."

What challenges did you face and have to overcome in getting this in your team?



One of the things you'll feel challenged by is that, people's natural propensity is to avoid honesty with themself, so once you start diving into this, people will feel bad or guilty or shame about who they are or the tendencies they have.

So you can't force somebody to be self-aware, it's an impossible task to force somebody to be self-aware.

So, just know that if you have an employee, you have a person you're working with, you cannot force them to do this work.

They have to choose to do this work, but there's tactics that you can use to help people see the tool is for our good, not just to examine, it's not just a x-ray.




It's not just there to condemn us or shame us, it's actually trying to help us see ourselves and to love better.

So the one analogy that's helped me, and how I encourage you to use the same analogy, you teach this to your kids, is that I remember when I was a kid that I would be mean to my younger brother or I'd do something and I didn't mean to, and my dad would get onto me and I would say, "well, dad, I didn't mean to."

In this phrase, and it's a sobering phrase, but it's true, he said, "well, that drunk driver didn't mean to run over that person, but they're still dead."

And so what sticks out to me is that, just because we don't mean to, doesn't mean there's not consequences.

Just because we didn't intend to hurt somebody with our words, just because we didn't intend to shame somebody, just because our presence felt like a person was annoying us, which we have a propensity to do, somebody's in our presence, we don't mean to make them feel like they're annoying us, but they do feel it, that still hurts, that's still poor leadership and we have to own how we're experienced.

So, a way I've helped people, coach people is, stop measuring our intentions, start measuring our experience.

Stop measuring our intentions, start measuring our experience.

So one of the best tools for Enneagram or even self-awareness is to ask the employees you have, ask people in your life, "how do you experience me?"

Because it doesn't matter what you intended to put off, it didn't matter if you intended to love, but came off as a jerk.

It doesn't matter if you intended to be present, but came off absent, it doesn't matter if you intended to slow down, but you're actually really anxious.

What really matters, the root of love, the experience of love is what really matters.

How did they experience us?

So the hurdle was, people not wanting to own themselves, and their own story and their own capacities and what their insecurities are.

But what you want to get at is, the goal is not just you knowing yourself, the goal is not to put up a mirror, the goal is to help somebody flourish, to help people experience your holistic authentic flourishing self.


Growing as a leader means growing in your care for others.

And I've used it in the past, Enneagram in the past for teams, and I can tell you, it helped me not only understand myself more, but understand the team members more to where you have an understanding of who they authentically are and that you give space for that.

And a lot of times teams will have a culture within a team, then you'll have a culture within the organization, and depending on that culture, you can interpret and experience people through that culture rather than experiencing them through who they authentically are.

And I can tell you, I mean, it's a game changer for teams and I love coaching with it for ministries too.

That's just a neat area to introduce Enneagram in ministry teams, but also nonprofits would benefit from this as well.

Any organization that wants to grow leaders, but also understand team dynamics more and how their teams click.

So, this wouldn't be a proper podcast on the Enneagram without talking your Enneagram and my Enneagram number.




So go ahead, tell us, Zach, what is your Enneagram number and wing?


Yeah, so I'm a Enneagram eight, I'm most likely Enneagram wing eight, wing seven, because I love ideas, I love energy, I love experiences and I don't care about being conflictive.

So I don't have much that nine going on with me, and so the way I teach Enneagram too is that, you are primarily one number, but you have everything going on in you, you may have less and more of each number.

So the way the Enneagram works, I'm convinced that all the numbers are tools on a tool belt and how much you have of that number is how often you pick up that tool.

So I pick up my eight tool the most in my leadership and that expresses itself in a bunch of different ways.

That means I'm going to be a visionary leader, that means I'm going to be powerful, that means I'm going to charge through the wall, I'm going to think big vision, but it also means I hate not being trusted, I hate being critiqued, I hate questions.

And the invitation for me as a eight is to not be in total control all the time.

That being a great leader doesn't mean I'm managing every detail.

And actually being a great leader is having people at my table that are tasked with questioning me, that people at the leadership table, people in my life, my wife who's a Enneagram six.

So eights and six do not classically get along.

I need my wife in my life, because she's going to question stuff, she's going to be anxious about stuff, I'm going to feel untrusted by her, and I have to interpret that through, she just has questions.

One of the things that Enneagram has helped me the most with, especially in my marriage, because I used to interpret my wife's anxiety as untrusting me.

It's not trusting me, when in fact she just has anxiety, because she's prone to anxiety, it has nothing to do with me personally.

So, my propensity is to vision, leadership, going after it, my vices are, I want to succeed and if we don't succeed, I don't know what to do.

And I want to be in control, but I care deeply about justice.

I care deeply about the abused, I care deeply about the people who have been treated terribly, and I will be unashamedly greeting people with holy anger if they wrong somebody I care about deeply.


We have so much in common in different ways, but I'm a three with a balanced wing of two and four, and so as a three.

I'm all about winning and moving the ball down the field and accomplishing and as a leader.

You can leverage that a lot, but also as a leader, you can hurt people a lot with that.




So being able to just slow down and know that, I've got to bring people along the journey, and accept them for who they are, and I can tell you, most people are not as driven by winning as I am.




And that doesn't mean that I'm wrong, it doesn't mean that they're wrong, like you said, it means, how are you going to lead them and care for them as your authentic self and also treating them as their authentic self?

And that's been huge in my journey of just understanding, especially creatives.




Creatives, they live on a different plane, and I have a background in creative work as well.

But how I look at creative work is a lot different than, I would say, more of the other Enneagram types who are more creative.

I see it in a context of winning, rather than something more aspirational, or something more spiritual or metaphysical or those things.

And then, one of the dark sides and if you get into the Enneagram and I encourage you to, one of the dark sides of a three is apathy.




So, if a three stops winning, apathy comes in and it's very tough to pull yourself out of that without just moving on and moving on to the next thing.


That's exactly right.


And so just being able to know that, I can see those patterns in my life.

I can see when I'm expecting people to be as excited and driven, if they're not there, that is not a defect, that is who they are, and that means you need to encourage them, and inspire them.


Yeah. I would say, part of building a culture of honesty among your team is being honest about those things.

So being honest about, "Hey, if you experience me like this, that means I'm probably in unhealthy and anxious."

So example for me, if my team, I've told everyone on my team, "if you experience me really zoned in focused and you feel your posture from me is like, do not bother me".

I'm actually not angry, I'm probably mostly anxious, because I go to five in my anxiety.

And I think your team knowing that helps them not build the narrative in their mind about their boss or their co-worker, they know how to interpret your experience instead of filling in the blank for themselves.


Yes. That is so good.

And look, a lot of teams, whether you're a new leader to the team, maybe you've been promoted, maybe you just came to the organization, but you're looking for something to really break the ice, something to take your team, relational dynamics deeper, this could be it.



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Strengthen your relationships using Enneagram results

strengthen your relationships with the enneagram at work


The Enneagram could be exactly what you need to introduce something that will open up conversations, honest conversations, that will open up vulnerable conversations, and I can tell you from experience with the team I previously led, it becomes a daily, weekly conversation.

We would be in meetings and I would intentionally call on someone because I knew I needed their particular perspective in this conversation, and I knew that, because we were open with each other and we understood what our Enneagram types were, how we behaved, how we thought, personalities, and it was just a game changer and it brought us close.

Not just in knowledge, not just in knowing each other, but even in the dynamic part of being in meetings and having disagreements and trying to have conflict that can be resolved.

It's just huge, it was just huge for us.

Again, just highly recommend introducing, if nothing else, if you're a leader listening to this, doing a self assessment and then opening it with your team.

So Zach tell us, looking back now, what are the positive effects and results from implementing Enneagram with your teams?


Well, I'd say first, it makes me a less insecure leader.

I'm leading out of security, not insecurity, which is the model for health in your organization, and your culture.

So if I'm able to be honest with myself, then I'm not walking around with my chip on my shoulder, I'm not walking around with some kind of agenda, I'm not walking around worried about how people see my weaknesses, I want them to know my weaknesses.

You should be boasting in your weaknesses, and that's how you build a safe and authentic and holistic culture.

Secondly, it helps you know your employees.

Not to pin them down, so don't weaponize the Enneagram to pin them down, don't vet applicants via the Enneagram.

I don't think that's helpful, I would never recommend vetting applicants via the Enneagram, I don't think that's what that tool's meant for.

I would say, use the Enneagram.

I've seen the Enneagram help us use common language with my team and to know each other and how we experience one another, we're able to interpret our emotions, we are able to interpret our conversations in common language.




So, I would encourage teams to accept the Enneagram as a tool to help your team grow relationally and interpreting each other's emotional and experiential world, and I would say the ultimate goal is building trust with your team, if you don't have trust, they will not follow you, and this Enneagram is a tool to help you earn trust.


I love that.

So, what would you say to those who are thinking, "Hey, this is nonsense", or maybe they're not that opposed to it, they're just on the fence or have concerns about implementing it, what would you say to them?


One, I would say this is not a silver bullet, so it isn't going to just radically change your organization.

If you depend on a Enneagram to create a healthy culture, you will fail.

So Enneagram is not going to be the silver bullet to your organization, and so if you don't implement it, okay, I would just encourage you to grow in self-awareness and help your team grow in self-awareness.

So I don't care if you use StrengthFinders, DISC, all the tools, there's all kinds of tools out there, grow in self-awareness, don't just settle with the status quo, don't just make it out to be silliness.

And if you don't lean into this, I can assure you, there'll be bodies behind you that are hurt by how you led, and you could be the nicest person in the world and there'd still be bodies, because your anxiety may paralyze people.

You walking around with guilt, may paralyze people, may hurt people, your indecisiveness, you may be the nicest person, but indecisive.

Enneagram hasn't helped you or self-awareness hasn't helped you see that, so you haven't put people around the table to help you be decisive and it's hurt people.

So I always encourage you, if you're saying, "I don't know if I want to do this, I don't want to know if this self-awareness is helpful", for the sake of healthy flourishing teams in members of your organization, lean in, because at 20 years from now, the goal is to help people flourish and succeed, not just in your organization, but in life, and self-awareness and the Enneagram have been helpful tools to do that.


So if you're a leader listening to this, you're wondering now, "Okay. What's what's the next step?"

What are some resources you would recommend Zach?


Yeah, I would encourage you to read a... There's a book by Todd Wilson, it's actually a leadership book called, When Enneagram Goes to Church, and you may not be working with a church, you might even be working for the nonprofit, but that book's still a really helpful book.

The first chapter particularly is a helpful chapter in understanding what the Enneagram is, so you can explain it, I've used that first chapter PDF as a tool to send to people, to help just brief them on what the Enneagram is.

So Todd Wilson, When The Ingram Goes to Church, and then the people who coach me in the organization I work with, CrossPoint Ministries, out of Indiana, they have a little book on their website called, The Relational Enneagram, and it's just a really helpful diagnostic tool to help you understand the Enneagram.

So you can look on there, look at different subtypes, you can look at all the ways Enneagram numbers interact with one another, the vices, the virtues, it's a really good book they created over there at CrossPoint.


And do you have an assessment that you prefer, a particular one?


Yeah. So I recommend the web assessment, WEPSS.

And it's the one that I strongly recommend, because it's the most holistic, it helps you see all your resources.

So it talks about resourceful, unresourceful and it gives you all the numbers for your Enneagram types, it's the most helpful, it does need help interpreting it, but it's the most helpful tool I've used, and that's someone I use and recommend

Closing thoughts

closing thoughts on the enneagram at work


Zach, where can others learn more about you and your work?


Yeah, the best place to find me is, where I write and I have a coaching platform there.

If you're a church or a pastor or you're a ministry leader, I love helping ministry leaders flourish in the ministry, especially in the area of family ministry.

So you can find more information about family ministry coaching, ministry coaching in that area, and I also love meeting with leaders and just Christians or just somebody trying to help flourish in their life.

Maybe you're having weariness, maybe you have anxiety, maybe you're struggling relationally, and you don't know why, and Enneagram could be a helpful tool to find out more about yourself so you can flourish and love and live a better life, not for the sake of yourself, for the sake of your relationships.

I'd love to talk to you more about that, you can go to to find out more.


Zach, thanks so much for coming on the podcast. The Enneagram has had a big rise over the past three to five years.




I think it's just an incredible tool for leaders and I hope everyone listening checks it out.


Yeah, me too.


Zach, thanks so much, man.


Yeah man.


We'll connect soon.




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