SeeChange Partners

Training High School Student Leaders in Emotional Intelligence By Using the Enneagram

by Jane Tight, SeeChange Partners

Thirty-five elected and appointed student leaders at a private high school were required to attend fifteen hours of classroom work to qualify for a leadership independent study. Together with the dean of students and dean of student activities, I helped design four workshops to increase their ability to self-observe, notice their impact on others, appreciate the differences of their classmates, and develop themselves as effective leaders. The workshops were held on periodic Sunday afternoons through-out the school year. The students ranged in age from 14 to 18, freshmen to seniors. Due to the extra-curricular feeling of the workshops, the environment was casual, interactive, and participatory.

At the first workshop, I introduced the concept of emotional intelligence1. When we discussed distinguishing characteristics of favorite and least favorite teachers and coaches, the students quickly saw how emotional intelligence was the predominant factor when assessing their personal experiences with teachers and coaches. In this highly academic school, we all noted that though education level is important, it didn't rank as an important trait for successful learning.

I gave them a brief introduction to the Enneagram Personality Typing System2 along with a tour of the Nine Core Personality types. The students were then given a set of cards3 to assist them in typing themselves. I fielded questions in an effort to help the students determine their types.

The students began to see the differences in their world views by listening to the questions and hearing the answers. The goal was not to nail their types but to hold the information lightly, and know that this was simply the beginning of self-observation. After 45 minutes of dialogue, the enneagram system was beginning to reveal itself to the students.

The students were then invited to divide into type groups to discuss why they thought they were in that type group. I circulated among the groups answering and posing questions. I also encouraged the students to try out other groups if they didn't feel they fit with the one they had initially selected.

Finally, the students were asked to come up with a brief presentation by type to convince a college admission counselor why they would be the most valuable students to admit to their university. It was imminently clear that all groups had compelling emotional strengths and gifts that would distinguish them in any group. Each group was rewarded with a round of applause and a bag of Halloween candy.

In the second workshop I began with a review of the types, their focus of attention, and basic characteristics of each type. To add interest to this population, I also shared names of some famous people and some well-known companies with conjectures about their types. Many students had questions of clarification (and challenges!) about the system, which were handled interactively with the group. The intention was always to raise questions for self-observation rather than provide answers.

The students were then divided into triads of mixed types. I distributed a tool geared toward communication style which described body language, speaking style, blind spots and distortions. Each triad was asked to discuss what they found to be true and not true about the descriptions. This helped the students to further identify their types. Again, I circulated around the room assisting with questions and observations, always holding the type lightly. In the debrief to the whole group, the students made astute observations about cultural differences and about their teachers and parents!

The students were then asked to select one communication characteristic that they would like to become more aware of. Each person selected a partner to observe them as they engaged in a controversial topic of conversation with a group of seven other students. In this case I posed some questions regarding MySpace.com. The students then met with their partners and shared what they had observed about the selected communication characteristic.

The third workshop was designed around the topics of stress and conflict. We began by showing the first thirty minutes of the movie Crash which had been nominated for the Best Picture Award at the Academy Awards. The students were asked to write down as many stereotypes as they could identify in the movie clip, after which they worked in small groups to write down as many stereotypes as they could that exist in their school. We debriefed in a large group and they were asked how they, as school leaders, could change school culture about these school views. The student's view of their school and its stereotypes quickly became as complex as Crash!

I then introduced the Pinch/Crunch Model4 to describe conflict. (When two to three small irritants, or 'pinches' are suppressed, the result is a conflict, or 'crunch'.) We brainstormed how the characters in the movie were pinched and subsequently found themselves in full conflict. I asked them to talk in small groups about what kinds of circumstances pinch them. The students were fascinated to hear that certain behaviors caused one person to 'crunch' while another student had no reaction at all to the same

behavior. For example, some students loved it when a teacher was distracted from the lesson plan, while other students became anxious about not getting all the information.

To further differentiate how different types experience conflict, I asked for a volunteer from each type group and ran a panel. A panel is a group of people who volunteer to publicly answer a series of questions posed by an interviewer. The questions I asked were, What makes you think you are this type? , What do you notice about yourself when you are in conflict? , and What can others do to help you when you are in conflict? The audience was deeply respectful of the panel. The differences between types became clearly evident when the types were able to speak using the narrative tradition. The panelists were rewarded by a round of applause and appreciation ribbons for their participation.

By the time of the next workshop, most of the participants were strongly identified with a type. There were still some who were uncertain, mostly due to their absence from previous workshops. The leaders were also far enough along in the school year that they were confident and getting restless in their positions. The deans of students and I decided it was good timing to push them in their leadership capabilities and challenge them to actually lead.

I began by using materials on leadership paradigms. We discussed some examples of leadership paradigms drawn from history (Hitler and national pride, Gorbachev and democracy). I asked them to think of a time when they had led a school project, a community service project, fine arts or athletic team successfully. They were to discuss in small groups What behaviors or skills do you use to lead? , Why do people allow them to lead? In the debrief, the popular and successful basketball team captain was asked to describe his leadership style. Other students also made observations. The students were able to identify his collaborative and personable type three style.

I then posted descriptions of leadership paradigms by type around the room on poster boards but the types were not listed on the poster. The students were asked to mill around the room silently, reading each description until they could settle on one paradigm that reflected their own leadership style. Each group was then asked to prepare a one minute presentation that would demonstrate their leadership styles describing why they should be selected as the new headmaster of the school. The presentations were funny and representative learning opportunities.

The last challenge was to move to the poster of a different style. Each student was asked to discuss in that small group how they would have been a different kind of leader this school year if that had been their primary leadership style. Throughout all workshops I encouraged the students to use the enneagram developmentally, encouraging students to increase their flexibility and decrease their rigidity of stance.

As a result of this work, I was asked to give a workshop for the parent community during a parent education conference. I also generated much interest from the parents of these leadership students as they took their learning home which I always encouraged! I have been asked to continue my work with the student and parent communities during the upcoming year.

I highly encourage trained enneagram teachers to teach to this wonderfully open and receptive student population in your own community. It is fun, refreshing and deeply satisfying to work with vibrant, young leaders of the future.

Please feel free to contact me with further questions.

Jane Tight


1 Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to know and manage yourself, understand others accurately, and interact with others productively.
2 The Enneagram is a system. . ..
3 Typing Cards and other materials produced and distributed by Bogda & Associates
4 The Pinch/Crunch Model of Conflict described by Ginger Lapid-Bogda in her book Bringing Out the Best in Yourself at Work McGraw Hill (2004), is from a larger conceptual model called Planned Renegotiations: A Norm-Setting OD Intervention, developed by Jack Sherwood and John Glidewell (1973)
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