Education law attorney and former Seattle public school board member, Jill Geary, is an Enneagram Type 7 leader. Jill shares how the Enneagram provides insights into the interpersonal dynamics that arise on school boards and how she used those insights to navigate disputes and achieve favorable outcomes.
Matt Schlegel: Thanks for joining me in conversations with leaders who are using the Enneagram as a leadership tool and a tool for personal growth and development. Today, I’ll be speaking with Jill Geary. Jill is an attorney who specializes in education law. She served on the Seattle Public School Board and now she’s getting an advanced degree in education policy in London. I’m looking forward to learning how she used the Enneagram as a leader while she was on the Seattle Public School Board and as an education advocate. If you enjoy these conversations, please click on the thumbs up button and subscribe to the channel. And now for the conversation.
I’m delighted to be speaking today with Jill Geary. Jill’s an attorney who specializes in education law. After practicing law and serving as an administrative law judge specializing in cases for children with special needs she was elected and served on the Seattle Public School Board. She’s now getting an advanced degree in education policy at UCL’s Institute of education in London. Full disclosure. Jill’s my sister. And she’s been with me on my engram journey from the very beginning. Today I’m eager to hear how she has used Enneagram in her leadership positions on the Seattle Public School Board, and as an education advocate. Jill, thank you so much for joining me today.
Jill Geary: Oh, thank you for having me Matt. I’m really looking forward to this.
Matt Schlegel: Awesome. So, we know how you discovered the Enneagram, it was through our many conversations as I was learning it. And I just so appreciate all the great conversations because you gave me a lot of insight in to Enneagram type 7 as we were having those conversations. And I so appreciate you embracing it and really taking it to heart and studying it yourself. And so I’m really interested as you were learning the Enneagram what did you discover about yourself that you may not have understood or appreciated before?
Jill Geary: Well, I think if you recall, you were fairly convinced initially that I was a type 6 along with you and our mother. And I think my personal resistance, it’s not that I didn’t appreciate that I had 6 traits and having been raised and grown up with a lot of 6 energy around me, I felt very resistant. And so I kept going back to the Enneagram and trying to figure out what about me was different from you that made sense.
And so, in just realizing that I was a 7 gave me permission to let go of this idea that I’m supposed to worry about things all the time which wasn’t as comfortable, and I felt created a lot more conflict even within the family dynamic. That once I could embrace that I was a 7 and therefore was going to prioritize adventure and fun with less concern about the risk involved, not that I’m entirely risk adverse, it just freed me up to be more comfortable in a lot of different dynamics. Just understanding that that was a priority for me, that was comfortable. And it was okay not to carry the worry that didn’t make me irresponsible, let’s say.
Matt Schlegel: Yeah, that is so fascinating because you grew up in a 6 household. And so you were kind of carrying that 6-ness with you in spite of your 7-ness, which created a load for you. And so, just by understanding those dynamics you were able to let that go. That is really great. That’s great.
Jill Geary: Well, and we’re in a similar triad. Correct? So-
Matt Schlegel: That’s right.
Jill Geary: We’re going to have some underlying dynamics that are very comfortable between us. And so it creates a lot of understanding and a lot of symbiosis, let’s say. So it’s easy to see where we’re similar and yet there’s that tension. So it was good to get that identified.
Matt Schlegel: Yes. Yeah. So I want to get to how you’ve used the Enneagram in your leadership roles. So, I remember having quite a number of conversations about the dynamics when you were on the public school board. So what was that like for you and how did you feel like you were using the Enneagram in that role?
Jill Geary: I think what it does for me is, because I want people to get along, and I want us to move forward in a way that everybody is as happy as they possibly can be. And so, I think where I would use it most frequently is to help people work through the conflicts that seem to be causing them emotional difficulty, as opposed to you’re always going to have philosophical differences, you’re going to reason through things or have different goals, different priorities. But when people seem to be getting stuck and emotionally invested in it, it was helpful to me to think about the Enneagram.
And even in a more general way, like the idea that if there are all these different types of people that have these inherent, even if it’s nine and we know it’s nine plus, that just talking to others about the fact that they’re feeling conflict, maybe not because of the issue that is presented but because of how they’re processing or reasoning through it. And they’re feeling that they’re not being heard or understood because they’re not actually hearing and understanding the perspective or point of view of the other person. And so, even that without having to come to a conclusion about the number that I was working with, just the idea of difference that can be so deeply held and coming from different points of view, I found helped me to work people through so that they could move forward and we could function better as a larger group.
And we had a lot of conflict, but I would say that in many ways, I don’t know if it was my contribution in particular, but I think at the end of the day, we continued to work fairly successfully as a board during my tenure even with some pretty strong disagreements. But I think that’s one of the best things that the Enneagram has given to me because I am so driven by this idea that I want people to enjoy the work that they’re engaged in. I feel like that is a successful dynamic. And so, helping them to get to that point of comfort, if not joy, moves things forward for everybody.
Matt Schlegel: Right. Right. Well, that is such a good point because so many people just get caught up in their own perspective and just don’t understand why people don’t understand what they’re saying, because it makes so much sense to them. And Enneagram gives us this understanding that, well, your perspective is only one of nine distinct ways of looking at the world. And so other people are looking at it completely differently. And just that understanding is helpful so that you don’t create a contentious environment when some misunderstanding comes up, but then taking it beyond that and saying, “Oh, okay. Now I’m starting to understand how they’re looking at it. And if I reframe in a way that suits their perspective they’ll feel understood and we can move forward and everybody will be happy,” which is ultimately what the 7 wants.
Jill Geary: Right. And when you’re in an educational institution you’re dealing with a lot of teachers. And I can’t say what they are as a type but they tend to be people who are bringing a lot of emotion into the workplace. And at a public school level, that’s what you want. You want these adults that you’re sending your children to, to be emotionally responsive to your own children. And that in the context of leadership, it was really important to continually remind people that we were dealing with a large group, a large workforce that by and large is very emotional in how they process things, and rightfully so. They’re engaged in education, which is an intellectual pursuit, but they have to bring both their brain and their heart to the table. And so, it was just really important to me that everybody on the team continued to be reminded that we were impacting real people who perceive things in many different ways even as we were making decisions from a very high level.
Matt Schlegel: Right. Right. Yeah. So you bring up another great point. The Enneagram talks about the three triads. Right? The gut people, the heart people, and the head people. You and I are in that head group. And so we’re looking at things rationally, logically, but we know and appreciate the value of people who communicate emotionally, especially with our kids, making those emotional connections with them that are going to give them the trust and security to want to engage and move forward with education. And so that is so great that you saw that and recognized that in your conversations with teachers.
Jill Geary: Yeah. I know. That was very important. And that was nicely put. Yeah.
Matt Schlegel: Oh, right. Nice. Well, so, just one last question before we wrap up. What advice would you give other leaders of your Enneagram type 7 as they start on their Enneagram journey?
Jill Geary: As they start on their Enneagram journey. Okay. As I start in there, I feel like from a leadership perspective as a 7, I tend to be one who’s continually looking at a lot of things at once. I like a situation where you’re putting out the fires, you’re inundated with information, you are handling a lot of different people. It keeps you excited and engaged. And I think that it’s really important for the 7 in order to be successful to make sure that they know who the people are around them who are going to remind them of the organization, the executive functioning of setting a goal and continuing to work towards that goal.
So I think it’s really important for 7s to have clear objectives for the work that they’re doing. Because as they’re moving around and exciting their brain with all these other things, you want to have a real follow through line to constantly test, is this energy somehow at some point going to come back to that line and move me forward in the direction that I ultimately want to go, or is it going to pull me away down some other fascinating path but maybe not the path that I want to be on now?
So that you don’t end up exhausting yourself and you don’t end up feeling defeated, because you never feel like you accomplish something even as you’re enjoying the process, you eventually want to be able to look back and see that you’ve got to where you wanted to go. And I think that’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned as a 7 when I feel myself being drawn away into other fascinating things to continue to remember that I do have a through line, I need to test things against that objective and make a decision and pull myself back in.
Matt Schlegel: Oh, that is so well said. Yeah. You’re speaking exactly to the 7s love for doing new, different, fun things. And how while that’s delightful and lovely, it can distract you from a big goal that you’re trying to achieve and take away energy from getting you to that goal. So, wow. That’s wonderful advice, Jill. Thank you so much.
Jill Geary: You’re welcome.
Matt Schlegel: And thank you for sharing your stories with us today. And I hope that you’ll come back in the future and share some new stories with us as how you’re using the Enneagram as a leadership tool.
Jill Geary: Oh, well, thank you. Thank you for having me on. It’s been a pleasure.
Matt Schlegel: All right. Thank you. Thanks again for watching. I really enjoyed how Jill described the challenge for Enneagram type 7 leaders to maintain enough energy to get to the goal line of the main goals. Enneagram type 7s can want to devote energy into new areas, new fun things that come along, and if they don’t take care they may not leave enough energy to get to the goal line of the main goal that they’re trying to achieve. And I thought she did a great job of describing that. If you found this helpful, please click on the thumbs up button, subscribe to the channel, and get notifications for future episodes. And if you have any questions, please leave them in the comment section and I’ll respond as soon as I can. Thanks again.