A wildly successful entrepreneur and I were meeting for the first time over lunch at the recommendation of a mutual friend. The suggestion proved fruitful, as there was never an awkward moment of silence as we explored our values and discussed our fascination with leadership.

Toward the end of our meeting, I handed the young man a copy of my latest books (unsigned, should he prefer giving them away). He graciously asked me for a synopsis of “Master Your Motivation.” I delivered my elevator speech describing how motivation is a skill—that we can learn how to create the three psychological needs for choice, connection, and competence required to thrive with optimal motivation. Curious, he probed for more details.

About two minutes into my description, he became emotional. “I’m sorry for interrupting, but I need to unload something heavy. I think I can use your help.”

Later that week, he explained, he would discover if the troublesome physical symptoms he’d suffered over the past eight weeks were due to multiple sclerosis. He added, “I’m scared.”


For the next 30 minutes, we had a motivation conversation. Never have I been more grateful to have the skill of helping someone understand the source of their fear—the loss of the foundational psychological needs required to thrive. I shared strategies with him for generating the vitality to effectively meet his challenge by creating choice, connection, and competence.

While I appreciate that I could rise to the occasion, it would have been a horrible statement of my life’s work if I hadn’t. But I realized that none of us always responds perfectly at the moment, and that shouldn’t keep us from having motivation conversations. I was reminded of a helpful example courtesy of my niece, Blair.

Blair was a retail manager in an upscale department of a popular department store. One evening over dinner, Blair excused herself to take a call from the department head. She needed to discuss her intention to write up Randy, one of her top salespeople. When Blair returned to dinner, she lamented how a once-fruitful relationship with Randy had deteriorated.

She described how she had explicitly outlined expectations for her staff to promote an upcoming sales event through personal calls and emails to their regular customers. But when Blair followed up with Randy, he admitted to not making any calls. I asked her how she handled that conversation.

She said, “I did what you recommend. I had a motivation conversation with Randy. I asked why he hadn’t made the calls. He gave me excuses: He hates making phone calls, couldn’t find a quiet place to make the calls, and feels awkward promoting a sales event to his wealthy clients who have the money to buy items at full price.”

Blair is an excellent listener, so I could picture her patiently noting Randy’s rationale. She told me she identified his imposed motivational outlook and tried to facilitate his shift to a more optimal outlook.

“I gave him every chance to shift his motivation,” she told me, “but he still didn’t want to make the calls. I am disappointed and so frustrated with Randy that I’m writing him up. Sometimes people need to pay the consequences for their failure to perform or for insubordination.”

I asked Blair to describe in more detail how she’d conducted her motivation conversation.

She said, “I explained to Randy that when faced with things I don’t like doing, I remember why I chose this profession. I described my love for design and fashion. I shared how exciting I think it is to sell pieces of art that people wear. I told him how our clients deserve to learn from the expertise he has gained from his training and years in the industry. I reminded him that he loves this industry, our store, and our customers.”