Answering The Question That Has Fueled The Self-Help Industry

Answering The Question That Has Fueled The Self-Help Industry
“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

I told one of my first coaches that I wanted to ‘reach my potential,’ and in her characteristic bluntness, she said it sounded ambitious.  I didn’t like her response.  Ambitious or not, I wanted to unlock my stuckness.  I was tired of myself and of the same situations happening to me over and over again. 

Maybe you have felt the same thing – a vague but deep-seated belief that there is so much more to you than the life you’re living now.  You sense that you have potential that has gone mostly untapped your whole life. And even if you could find the right words to express it, you would probably keep it to yourself.  It sounds too self-aggrandizing and maybe even like too much of a cliché. 

Instead you allow it to slip away, tending instead to your over-booked calendar, the under-performing team member, and the endless sea of deadlines.  It was just a fleeting feeling anyways, and who has time to aspire to such high-minded pursuits as personal evolution when sh*t needs to get done?  Besides, you’ve listened to podcasts, read book and made lists to get better.  A few things stick, but most of it is short-lived.

And there you have it – the question that has fueled a whole self-help industry – “how do I tap into my potential?”

That question has followed me around for a long time, and while I’m not saying that I’ve found the magic elixir, I do want to share what has had the biggest impact on my own personal and professional development. 

For years, I heard people talk about the Enneagram, a tool that has been around in one form or another for some seventy years.  If you Google it, you’ll find endless references to it, but one organization, the Integrative Enneagram, has turned it into a validated assessment focused on professional development.  I’d hear other coaches talk about their types and would inwardly roll my eyes.  I hated the idea of being pigeonholed, defined and trapped by a reductive tool.  It went deeper than that.  It went against my worldview of each person’s absolute uniqueness.

Finally, I gave in to the buzz not only out of curiosity, but also because I had a nagging sense that some of my blind spots were behind recurring situations in my life. It felt like no matter how much I thought I had changed an approach to a situation or a person, I found myself back in the same frustrating place. 

The first time I read the report, it felt invasive, like someone had showed me everything about myself that I had never been able to put into words – my behaviors (good and less-good), worldview, core motivations and fears.  It was unsettling.

The Enneagram is the most effective self-reflection tool I’ve encountered, not just for myself, but also for my clients.  The iEQ9 doesn’t just categorize someone based on their personality – it seeks to increase awareness about what motivates a particular behavior.  By turning the spotlight on unconscious, reactive behavior, it creates the opportunity to make more conscious choices. 

“By turning the spotlight on unconscious, reactive behavior, the Enneagram creates opportunity to make more conscious choices.” 


I now use it with all of my clients early in our relationship.  It gets us to a deeper conversation faster.  The Enneagram holds up a mirror, again not to put them in a box, but to ask them “what about this might be true?”  And the practical side of me deeply appreciates that the tool provides tactical suggestions for how to expand beyond the confines of our reactive patterns.

“The Enneagram holds up a mirror, not to put you in a box, but to ask: ‘What about this might be true?’” 


In case you’re wondering about how your own motivation might be driving certain behaviors, take a look at the core motivations of each of the 9 types. 

Core motivation of each of the 9 Enneagram Types 

  1. To be good or right

  2. To be liked & appreciated 

  3. To outshine the rest

  4. To be unique & authentic

  5. To understand & make sense of the world

  6. To be safe and belong

  7. To experience life to the fullest and avoid pain 

  8. To be in control and to be strong 

  9. To keep the peace


If you are curious about using the Enneagram for yourself or for your team, the website includes descriptions of each type, as well as a sample report.

Starla Sireno is an NYC-based Executive Leadership Coach. She has helped develop leaders in some of the most recognized organizations ranging from Fortune 500 to fast-growth technology companies. Starla has partnered with more than 500 leaders in over 60 organizations around the world. Inquire how you can work with Starla or her team.

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