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Crucial Influence

My Boss Wants Me to “Act First,” But That’s Not My Personality

Dear Crucial Skills,

I love the Crucial Influence® Model, and I’ve been able to apply it to overcome hurdles and help others that I mentor. However, I struggle to apply the framework when it comes to personality types. I have received feedback from my managers that I need to be more action-oriented, but numerous personality tests tell me I am more of a “think first” person rather than an “act first” person.

Here is my question: Does personality relate to ability or motivation? If my personality is more “think first” and my boss is asking me to be more “act first,” how do I change my behavior while still being true to who I am?

Just Who I Am

Dear Just Who I Am,

Many organizations have begun leveraging personality tests to get to know their employees and build thriving relationships in the workplace. Personality tests provide insight into communication styles, strengths, and areas for potential growth. Organizations use them to improve collaboration, understand team dynamics, strengthen individual and team performance, and even to reduce turnover.

There are however some potential cautions. Some personality tests may be simplistic, lead to biases, and limit employees’ beliefs about themselves.

Let me offer an additional perspective. Over the years, I have come to realize that these types of assessments do not define us, but rather refine us. They measure and bring to light our preferences, tendencies, and cognitive processes. They help us grasp and adapt to our environment. What they don’t do is determine who we are. American psychologist, Elias Porter, said, “The more a personality theory can be for a person, rather than about a person, the better it will serve a person.”

The Crucial Influence Model, on the other hand, helps us understand how our social world works and how to change our world. The model helps us identify how personal, social, and structural factors shape our choices and behavior, and how behavior contributes to results. It also helps us get better results by using six sources of influence to remove barriers to behavior change and increase both motivation and ability.

So, does personality relate to ability or motivation? The answer is yes.


Two questions we ask to diagnose personal motivation barriers are “When left in a room by themselves, would people want to engage in the behavior?” and “Does it fit their sense of who they are or who they want to be?”

As mentioned above, we often embrace our personality assessment results as a measurement of our identity. The more we believe our results, the less motivated we are to engage in behaviors that appear to run contrary to that belief.

Your preference and tendency to “think first” before you act has become a personal value. Such values can run deep and keep us from being open to or desirous to change or adapt to a new behavior. In order for you to want to fulfil your boss’s request, you must first connect the new behavior to something that you value. Your motivation is tied to your motives, so ask yourself, “What do I really want? For myself? For my boss? For the team?” The answer to those questions can help you find the motivation to at least try the new behavior. Are there other values you hold that relate to meeting your boss’s request?


I often find I’m less motivated to do things that I find difficult to do. When diagnosing personal ability barriers, we ask questions like “Do they have the knowledge? Do they have the skills? Do they have the strength to do the behavior even when it’s difficult?” It could be that you lean towards a “think first” behavior because you find the expected behavior difficult to do.

To shift to an “act first” approach, ask yourself, “What skills, training, or information do I need to be more action-oriented?” Answers may include clearer details on what is being asked or better examples of what the behavior looks like. A better understanding of how the new request aligns with current projects may also be helpful.

With greater understanding of what’s influencing your motivation and ability, it’s time to have an open conversation with your boss. Express appreciation for the feedback and share why you tend to take a more thoughtful approach. Share your intentions with your boss. Discuss how you can align your style with their request in order to accomplish the desired outcomes. Remember, you don’t have to abandon your strength of thinking before acting in order to meet the demands of your role or the request of your boss. Work with your boss to identify tasks or situations where an “act first” approach is crucial and those where a “think first” strategy makes more sense. Don’t forget to establish regular check-ins to evaluate your progress with your boss.

Your personality assessment results combined with the Crucial Influence Model can help you find synergy between your tendencies and the requirements of your boss. Try to make small steps to build confidence. Finally, apply multiple sources of influence to your own behavior so you can adopt the new behavior without sacrificing your values.

I’d love to hear from others. How do you see the relationship between the Crucial Influence Model and personality assessments?


You can learn more insights and skills like this in Crucial Influence

7 thoughts on “My Boss Wants Me to “Act First,” But That’s Not My Personality”

  1. John Shoucair

    Your comments on the weaknesses of most personality tests hit the mark. Even the comprehensive and respected Myers-Briggs tends to pigeon hole people and explain why they do things. They titled one of their books “Please Understand Me”.
    The 34 Clifton Strengths provide valid results to expalin both behaviors in your story. The Boss most likely has Activator in the top five personality strengths; the writer likely has Deliberator. Don Clifton’s research, backed by research from the Gallup organization, advises that you never give up on your strengths or try to change your personality. He would never suggest that [to shift to an “act first” approach, ask yourself, “What skills, training, or information do I need to be more action-oriented?”] You drive yourself crazy when you try to draw on strengths you don’t have, instead of leveraging the ones that have made you proficient and successful – which tend to be your five go-to strengths or “Talent.”. The boss needs to understand the team and reassign the work, AND keep in mind that the writer still needs to have input for the success of the project. I dicovered Clifton 20 years ago and recommend it to others – and most importantly, to use Crucial Learnings communication tools to bring it all home.

  2. Bernhard Böttinger

    how about asking the boss what he really means by action oriented? On basis of that answer it’s maybe easier to define the expected behaviour.

  3. tom benzoni

    1. I regard personality assessments as quasi-voodoo. Mine change with the mood I’m in and the environment within which I take them.
    2.Re “action-first”: This can only occur in a safe environment as I can’t take back an action but I can un-think a thought. I believe I read it here: It’s hard to talk your way out a position you’ve acted your way into. (paraphrased, I’m sure.) Think first is a basic concept in EMS: scene safety.

  4. Mark Foley

    Talk with the boss about how ‘doing’ and ‘thinking’ can complement each other. I was in a ‘action’, ‘doing’ culture, but they started to fail because they didn’t ‘think’. ie. no strategy, didn’t understand the markets/customers etc. But the ‘doing culture’ still promoted the ‘doers’.

  5. JennyG

    I like Scott’s suggestion to have an ongoing conversation about this issue with your boss to define more specifically what they want with a learning attitude. Perhaps the boss senses that you are sometimes slow to act due to fear. Then it would be good to explore what fears are involved. Perhaps the boss doesn’t recognize the need to do more strategizing or thinking through decisions at times and the value that your approach may bring. In other words, looking at the causes, parameters and results that have been occurring to determine a new approach would be very useful on both sides. Be brave and be open, while also keeping your own strengths in mind as well. Best wishes on this journey!

  6. sofie maervoet

    very relevant post! I know from my own experience that a personality test only shows what your 1st natural reaction is but you can learn absolutely to act differently by learning skills, by experience. And the testscores change over time as you develop. I agree that the blocker often is “what I don’t like doing” but when you are driven by the result you want to achieve, it helps to overcome this.

  7. Nick

    I wasn’t expecting this….

    The callout to “Your preference and tendency to “think first” before you act has become a personal value.” is a tough pill to swallow. I also am going to take this medicine (due to this article).

    I’m sure this is more common than I’m aware of. Our company is moving to be more “agile” and with that move comes an increase in “Act first, adjust it later” thinking.

    Yes, I question some choices, I like some, I don’t like others. In the end I’m part of a bigger machine and if it goes left, I’ll need to go left (I use Influencer and Crucial Conversation skills all the time to explain my position and try to influence behaviors).
    In the end, I’m a small piece and sometimes I can alter a direction and many times I can’t.

    Victor Frankl is often referenced, and to help me take this medicine I’ll reference him as well (more for my benefit to type it out and commit to the idea in my head).
    We get to decide how we face the day. We can choose how we show up.

    In the end, I have the final call. I get to choose to stay or leave. I get to choose what I can develop in myself to help my other choices be more successful.

    Can I “act first”? Sure.
    Can I try to find ways to get some thinking in first, to be able to act quickly enough to look like I’m acting first and still be comfortable with my actions? I’m gonna use the tips from Scott and give it a good try.

    Thanks for letting me walk my path through this. Hopefully it may help someone reading it as it helped me by typing it.

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