Interview with Kathy Kolbe

Chairman of the Board, Chief Creative Officer, Kolbe Corp


From an early age, Kathy Kolbe queried her father, E.F. Wonderlic, about the test he had created in the 1930’s (commonly known to this day as “The Wonderlic“, or formally as the Wonderlic Personnel Test, She didn’t understand why certain “smart” people did not get much done, or why it mattered if her soccer teammates had a high IQ, if they were not good soccer players. Her dad, and hero to this day, had created the world’s first short-form cognitive ability test – he was studying smarts, IQ, or cognition to help companies make more informed hiring decisions. Although she appreciated what it told her about someone (including all boyfriends), she wanted – needed – more; more about what drove human behavior and action.

According to Kolbe, she and her father had classic father-daughter discussions and debates on the subject. Eventually she set about learning how to measure what drove people. That is exactly what she, in fact, did. Although at the start of her journey, she had no intention of creating a test – “The Kolbe”, as the test is known, was central to the work that continues to grow today. Instead of measuring the cognative ability, it measures the conative – the doing part of the mind. The test studies one’s striving instincts, or what they are most, and least, likely to do in a given circumstance – when they have the freedom to truly be themselves. The Kolbe often gets miscategorized with “personality tests”, but it offers something those tests don’t capture – an understanding of why we behave certain ways and how (and why) we are likely to take action. As importantly, it does this in a usable, explainable, and remember able way. Further, it better helps us understand and appreciate our differences and play better with one another in the sand box of life, as we use focus on the use of our innate strengths, and those of others. It is the interviewer’s belief that The Kolbe is not only a key tool for business, but tremendous as a tool for business succession planning.

Although not a classic tale of family business, where the business is passed from one generation to the next – this interview tells the story of a notable father giving a gift to his youngest that took her awhile to understand and appreciate. Not burdened with continuing, or growing, an existing business (that was her brother’s job, and subsequently her nephew’s job, at E. F. Wonderlic and Associates, which continues under family leadership to this day), Kathy was able to pursue her passion without the pressures often faced by succeeding generations. The results are The Kolbe Corp and the thousands of people who have benefited from what they learn about themselves as a result of the freedom Kathy’s father gave her to follow her gut.

In this interview, you will learn about the growing up in the Wonderlic house in the suburbs of Chicago, as the test business was getting started, and the family involvement from the outset. More importantly, Kathy helps the listener understand how the Kolbe Test, as a tool, can help individuals and families better understand one another and help them make better decisions about leadership roles and succession in a business. She does this by explaining what the Kolbe Test studies and gives some real life examples of how Kolbe Test outcomes have driven positive decisions by families, and why. It also illustrates the dynamics of father-daughter ties and some key issues in continuity decision making during the twentieth century.

This interview, done in Arizona, offers insight into the importance of understanding the driving strengths of humans and how to put those to maximum use, whether inside or outside a family firm or business. This addition to the Holleman Business Succession Forum is another front row seat at the business decision making table, as Kathy also helps you understand what led to the ultimate inclusion of her son and step-daughter, after years of not believing in family in the business. Although brief, the interview is filled with wisdom on what makes us tick and how to best understand and appreciate natural talent as the core factor in business succession decisions.

Notable Discussion Topics:

Among other topics, Kathy discusses the following issues with Vernon Holleman III, CLU:

  • Conation versus Cognition – it is Not all about being Smart
  • Overcoming Pronounced Disabilities – Fighting for Your Way of Learning and Achieving
  • Helping Grow a Family Business – from Childhood; from the Basement!
  • Following a Father – A Daughter’s Perspective
  • Setting Your Own Path – the Importance of Confidence
  • Strength Discovery – What Makes Us Tick and Why You Need to Know
  • Why Certain Kolbe Scores May Mean Certain Leadership Roles
  • When it is OK to Hire a Family Member into the Family Business


Kathy Kolbe is an acclaimed theorist, bestselling author, entrepreneur, educator, organizational strategist, consultant and speaker, and is the founder of Kolbe Corp and the Center for Conative Abilities. She is considered to be the world’s leading authority on human instincts and conation* and has dedicated her life to helping people to find the freedom to be themselves through understanding and using their conative abilities.

The author of multiple research studies, Kolbe has proven her long-held theory that conation is a third faculty of the brain. Additionally, over 750,000 case studies have tested and validated her theories on the inherent, instinctive nature of human conation. Kolbe’s work has earned her widespread recognition and awards.

She has authored a number of assessment and performance tools used across the world by business, schools, families and individuals, including the Kolbe A™ Index, the only valid and reliable assessment tool for measuring an individual’s method of operation (M.O.) within the conative faculty of the brain.

Kolbe’s motivation for her life’s work is rooted in her own cognitive challenges. A severe dyslexic, she discovered early on that instinctive, purposeful action could trump any learning disability. Additionally, in midlife Kolbe survived a near-fatal car accident that left her unable to perform simple cognitive tasks. Rather than focusing on what was lacking, Kolbe relied on deep-rooted conative instincts to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles.