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How Do CliftonStrengths and the Enneagram Test Compare?

How Do CliftonStrengths and the Enneagram Test Compare?

by Adam Hickman and Mary Claire Evans

Workplaces and individuals face a variety of options when choosing the best development tools to improve performance. From personality tests to leadership assessments, there is no shortage of tools to evaluate us. We will dive into a comparison of two well-known tools -- Enneagram personality test from the Enneagram Institute and the CliftonStrengths assessment -- weighing out the differences and providing a little history, too.

Enneagram Theory

The Enneagram of Personality Theory derives its teachings from mystical Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Taoism, Buddhism and ancient Greek philosophy, but the assessment known today was put together by Oscar Ichazo. Ichazo was a Bolivian teacher who created the Enneagram of Personality Theory in the 1950s as a part of a more substantial body of teaching he termed Protoanalysis.

Protoanalysis is a vast interwoven body of teachings on psychology, cosmology, metaphysics and spirituality devised to bring about transformations in the human consciousness. Ichazo identified nine aligning ego fixations, passions, virtues and holy ideas individuals can develop within their psyche at an early age, which created the foundation for the Nine Enneagram Types.

These nine interconnected personality types are represented by the nine points of a geometric figure called an Enneagram: a triangle and irregular hexagonal form inside of a circle. Each person who takes an Enneagram assessment receives their type number, which describes the chief feature of their ego structure. As listed on the Enneagram Institute's website, the nine types include:

  • Enneagram 1: The Reformer is principled, purposeful, self-controlled and perfectionistic.
  • Enneagram 2: The Helper is generous, demonstrative, people-pleasing and possessive.
  • Enneagram 3: The Achiever is adaptable, excelling, driven and image-conscious.
  • Enneagram 4: The Individualist is expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed and temperamental.
  • Enneagram 5: The Investigator is perceptive, innovative, secretive and isolated.
  • Enneagram 6: The Loyalist is engaging, responsible, anxious and suspicious.
  • Enneagram 7: The Enthusiast is spontaneous, versatile, acquisitive and scattered.
  • Enneagram 8: The Challenger is self-confident, decisive, willful and confrontational.
  • Enneagram 9: The Peacemaker is receptive, reassuring, complacent and resigned.

The placement of each of the nine types along the Enneagram shape is not arbitrary. Deeper into Enneagram Theory, each person has a wing to their type. This type number is a mixture of their dominant personality along with one of the two adjacent types on the circumference of the circle of Enneagram.

For example, type Nine is between Eight and One, so individuals with a dominant type Nine may have a One wing or an Eight wing that also adds essential elements to their personality. Furthermore, each type has an integration/growth direction and a disintegration/stress direction. Based on the interior lines that connect a type to precisely two other types, an individual can grow if they challenge themselves to behave in a way different from their natural personality, or they can disintegrate in the opposite direction.

Enneagram Test Design

The Riso-Hudson Enneagram Type Indicator (RHETI) is the most popular Enneagram-based test. The 40-minute assessment consists of 144 forced-choice paired statements. Each pair of sentences is structured for the participant to think about their personality and choose the phrase that best describes them. Results show their dominant Enneagram type along with the ranking of the other eight types and their intensities.

Results explain the different behaviors associated with each personality type with hopes that once an individual knows and understands harmful actions, they can change to reach their potential.

CliftonStrengths Assessment Overview

The CliftonStrengths assessment measures the presence of talent in 34 areas called themes. After individuals respond to 177 sets of paired statements, they receive their customized report that presents their five most dominant talent themes as indicated by their responses to the instrument. A person's Signature Themes (or Top 5) are unique to the individual: 278,256 combinations of five themes are possible, and when you consider the specific order of the five themes, that number jumps to more than 33 million different combinations, meaning the likelihood of finding two people with the same Top 5 are one in 33 million.

The CliftonStrengths assessment offers an opportunity for talent discovery and a language through which individuals can express their unique talents. The precision afforded by the depth and language of the strengths concept moves beyond that of "people person" descriptors, which offer relatively surface insight. Knowing, for instance, that a person naturally recognizes and cultivates the potential in others and derives satisfaction from watching others grow (Developer) can be a substantial asset when considering how an individual might interact with others.

Clifton Strengths defines 34 talent themes sorted into four domains:

To date, the CliftonStrengths assessment has more than 25 million individuals who understand their innate talents.

Haven't discovered your CliftonStrengths yet? Take the assessment and get your personalized CliftonStrengths 34 report today.

Both Assessments Can Work Together

The goal of any assessment continues to be the pursuit of understanding an individual and not only appreciating their world, but also gaining insights on how to coach them. The Nine Enneagram Types give contrast and further context to what we CliftonStrengths coaches would deem as our talents that help or hinder our abilities.

For example, someone with higher RHETI scores in type Eight than type Nine could presuppose that their CliftonStrengths assessment would depict someone with a higher intensity within their talents for strategic thinking and less in relationship building. With this clarity, a coach could fine-tune their questions, ways of communication and, ultimately, the journey of their coaching partnership. Imagine for a minute how using the insights provided by their RHETI assessment could help when coaching this person to attempt to adapt to the status quo.

If coaches used both assessments, the focal point would be the essence of individualizing your approach to the person for the growth and development of abilities. Often, coaches construct the notion of having to have the right assessment for the right person; yet assessments are just tools -- what you do and say is the admirable aspect of the coaching conversation.

Bottom Line

While Enneagram assessments provide clues and insights into an individual, the complexity of understanding humans as types and then the stem of the personality type as a word that has deep meaning may confuse reading the results and coaching conversations. The core of CliftonStrengths -- studying what is right with people -- remains the same as when it was constructed.

Enneagram's assessment results depict what your personality type gets into conflict by being, which changes the conversation to focus on weakness. While understanding what hinders your talents and abilities is valuable, the larger challenge is understanding how your talents can overcome weaknesses every day. As we know, people receive a greater return on life and in their career when as coaches we stick to the core of strengths-based coaching, uncovering their talents and building upon strengths.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:


Adam Hickman's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Ideation, Command, Analytical, Competition and Individualization.

Mary Claire Evans' Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Individualization, Achiever, Learner, Responsibility and Connectedness.

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