One of my biggest professional regrets is not using a powerful “people tool” I first learned about in 2010. Had I done so, I would have been a more effective employee and a better leader. Here’s why and what I wished I would have done.

When I retired from the Air Force in 2010, I looked for tools that would help me figure out my next career. In that process, I took the Kolbe A assessment, which measures how a person naturally works to reach a goal or deliver a result. Many people have not heard of it; here’s the overview.


The Kolbe A index measures how someone naturally works when intentionally trying to reach a goal. This is called their conative score, and it describes on a scale from 1 to 10 how a person

  • manages information (Fact Finder mode)
  • arranges and structures their work (Follow Through mode)
  • deals with risk and change (Quick Start mode), and
  • relates to their physical environment (Implementor mode)

It does not measure a person’s cognitive skills (what they’ve learned from experience and education, how they think) nor someone’s affective nature (what their values are, how they manage emotions, and their personality type).

The Kolbe A provides unique insight into how you can expect a person to act and how they will fit into a team. These characteristics are instinctive, not learned, and are consistent over time and across environments. Every way of working has value, but the environment in which it is put to use will make someone a better or poorer fit for a role.

For example, I am a 2 in the Implementor mode, which means I naturally work well with ideas and concepts. I can visualize something without needing to see or touch it. It also means that I will struggle in a role that requires working with tools. I majored in physics in college, which is a great fit for my 2; when I try to do repairs around the house, I procrastinate and take longer than someone who has a higher score in Implementor.




When an employee feels understood and empowered to work in the way that works best for them, they are more engaged. Engaged employees are more productive, less stressed, happier, and less likely to leave.



In the industrialized world, we tend to limit job qualifications to what you need to know and what experience you need to have (cognitive qualifications). We may also consider the values needed to fit into a company or the personality profile that will best complement a team. However, knowing HOW someone will be expected to work completes the profile and helps a hiring manager better select the right person for not only the company but the role.




As implied above, the best time to think about how someone will be expected to work is before you hire him/her. When you know how the person will be expected to work, it is straightforward to assess their conative profile and understand how well they match expectations.

However, the utility does not stop there. Some intra-team conflicts that are usually labeled “personality conflicts” may actually be “ways of working” conflicts. For example:

  • The person who always asks questions may not actually be distrustful; he may simply have a high score on the Fact Finder index and “need” the data he is seeking. 
  • The person who can be relied upon to shoot holes in other people’s ideas may not be “Debbie Downer”; she may have a low score on Quick Start and naturally protects against risk.



The Kolbe A Index is useful across all industries and types of work—if you employ or work with people, it is applicable. It is also useful for people who primarily work with data and things:

  • A machinist making precision parts should be very good at precisely following standard procedures, with an innate ability to do the same things over and over again
  • Similarly, a data analyst who regularly changes his/her methodology and presents the outcome in a different way in each report is unlikely to last long in the role!



If I were able to re-do my career after learning about the Kolbe A index, I would do these things:

  • Ensure that my boss and my direct reports took the Kolbe assessment, so that I knew objectively and accurately what to expect from them and how to relate to them
  • Design/review the roles I had and those I supervised to include a description of how they were to be done
    • For most roles, there is no right “how”, while for some roles or some circumstances, there is

    • I’d be clear about for which roles and what circumstances limitations existed, and for which the incumbent was free to do things their way

  • I would be better able to give and provide feedback about job performance
    • I have received (and probably given) feedback about “strengths and weaknesses” which was really feedback about the individual’s conative preferences

    • In such a case, we could have had a deeper, more effective conversation about whether their preferred way was in fact, better, and if so, why

  • Teams I was a part of or those I led would have operated more effectively
    • Understanding that a conflict could be about natural ways of working instead of personalities would have helped to reduce or resolve those conflicts

    • Understanding the conative concept would have enabled me to help turn conflicts into complementary strengths, making the team stronger as a whole

Next steps


If you find utility in the above, I recommend doing these things:

  1. Take the Kolbe A assessment at
  2. Listen to the online report; Kathy Kolbe, the company founder, explains each of your sub-mode results
  3. If you need help integrating the Kolbe system into your company or work environment, work with me or a Certified Kolbe Coach to get what you need
  4. Lastly, e-mail me at to get a free Strengths-based Leadership Assessment. It will help you to see where you might need help and where you are doing well as a leader!