Motivational Intelligence 101


10 Basic Facts About Motivation

  1. No one can motivate someone else.  All motivation is intrinsic (belonging to their essential nature) within each person.
  2. We are each motivated to behave in ways we believe will adequately satisfy our desires for 16 common human needs.  How we meet our most intensely desired needs becomes our habits and personalities.
  3. How we prioritize our needs creates our values-systems.
  4. Our values-systems create the lens or rules we apply to all our experiences and thoughts to create an individual subjective version of what we believe is reality.
  5. While humans are more similar than different, perceptions of significant opposite values threaten our worldviews and trigger our natural defensive and self-protective reactions.  
  6. We each believe we are “normal” and that other weird people would be happier if they adopted our values-system and do what is most satisfying to us.  Even well-meaning bosses can inappropriately use their organizational authority to mandate the boss’s values-system.  “It’s my way or the highway.”
  7. If we can remain curious, we can seek to understand why people innocently pursue satisfying their strongest needs and learn to accept, tolerate, and respect even opposite values to our own.  Ultimately, we can use opposite perceptions to complement a more accurate and complete collective worldview.  Understand our own and other peoples’ motives and values is called motivational intelligence.
  8. If something is not being done, a likely reason is that the person has not thought of a meaningful enough reason to be willing to do it. Motivation is wanting to do something to satisfy our needs.
  9. When one behavior satisfies multiple needs, we can predict we will likely repeat the behavior, becoming a habit.
  10. Frustration focuses our attention on an unsatisfying thought or situation denying one or more needs or violating our values.  Frustration causes enough discomfort to get us to change to a more satisfying state.

The secret to a meaningful life is doing the most of what you find most meaningful.  A Reiss Motivation Profile® uses the Science of Motivation® to provide a detailed blueprint of your intrinsic motivational values-system. 

What Do You Mean By Change?

“We need to make some changes around here,” stated the CEO confidently. LinkedIn probably will record a 79% increase in profile updates from this company’s employees immediately following the CEO’s comment. The problem is not so much with making necessary changes; the problem is using the vague word change to describe what you anticipate needing to make different. People don’t naturally resist change. We actually change all the time. We fight anything we perceive as potentially threatening to our well-being which is often the case with one’s reaction to hearing the word change unexpectedly. In the absence of facts, we tend to fill in our worst fears when we hear the “c” word and expect the worst while we hope for the best.

What Does the “C” Word Mean?

A big challenge with change is the vagueness of the word itself. Check out the definition and meaning of the word change at Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, and you will see what I mean. Change is an easy word to mistake its intended meaning from making something different to some coins in a pocket. I believe using the word change in an organizational setting can negatively trigger people’s insecurities, anxieties, curiosity, and frustrations. When people are feeling insecure, they are unable to think creatively, according to fMRI studies of how the brain responds to perceived potential threats. Defensive, anxious, and threatened people naturally resist the perceived threat and do not immediately accept and adapt to the threat. If you want to make a change project even more challenging to gain ultimate utility and adoption, then start by casually dropping change bombs to fire up the rumor mill and grapevine.

Be Specific About What You Really Mean By Change

A quick click on, and you will find forty synonyms for the word change. Imagine your natural first reaction to hearing Ms. CEO Boss say, “We are going to invest in some innovations,” or “We plan to upgrade our software with an enhancement to make our workflow more manageable.” Compare your gut feeling to those statements versus, “We are going to be making some changes around here.”

Draw Your Before And After Pictures Of Change

Be clear and specific about the size, scope, and intention of the difference (change) you intend to make, and you may make a positive difference in the rate of adoption of your intended outcome. The goal is to accurately paint a mental before and after picture of the difference you intend to make. Sometimes I challenge my coaching clients who are planning a significant change project to draw a before (current situation) picture and an after (post-project) picture to summarize the difference they are anticipating making in the organization. Then I ask them to most clearly and accurately describe the project based on the images. Is the project a renovation, innovation, conversion, reconstruction, resizing, modification, or something else specifically?

While we may talk about various competencies and disciplines such as change leadership or change management, we need to choose more accurate and less triggering words to reflect better the intention of the difference we are trying to make with and through others. When you change the way you talk about change, the possibilities for more successful changes also change for the better.

If you would like professional support to help you navigate a significant organizational transformation, then let’s have a conversation for a change.

Stop Trying to Fit In

Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.

Oscar Wilde

There is a real problem with trying to fit into a role or corporate culture that is misaligned with your values. Fitting in takes more willpower than you have available. You cannot tap into your natural motivation to find the role satisfying. You cannot force yourself to fit in for the long-term if you are fighting your nature.

We each are born genetically prewired with an individual preference for 16 basic human desires. This is according to the extensive research conducted by psychologist, Professor Steven Reiss, Ph.D. Our early cultural and family experiences also shape our values and needs. By the time we arrive at puberty, our values-guidance system is fairly well established and will not likely change dramatically as we age. We spend the rest of our lives attempting to satisfy our needs. We form habits to do what we find most satisfying. While we are motivated to pursue the temporary satisfaction of our needs, we can temporarily use self-control or willpower to delay our significant needs’ gratification temporarily.

Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. studies willpower and wrote, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It,” found that people who believe they have the most willpower are actually most likely to be surprised by setbacks and give up on their goals when they run into difficulty. McGonigal believes that willpower is actually three distinct mental powers, “I will,” “I won’t,” and “I want. These three powers enable us to make desired positive changes to ourselves. McGonigal writes that “I will” and “I won’t” power are the two equal sides of one’s self-control. She adds, “To say no when you need to say no, and yes when you need to say yes, you need a third power; the ability to remember what you really want.” This brings us back to Reiss’s motivational research and the “I want” power. The heart wants what the heart wants is a proven fact when it comes to understanding why we humans are motivated to do what we do and don’t do.

Where There’s a Want We Make a Way If We Have Enough Willpower

When you want one thing (to fit comfortably into your favorite jeans) and another part of you wants something else (lots of delicious chocolate), then you experience what McGonigal calls a willpower challenge. She writes, “Your present self wants one thing, but your future self would be better off if you did something else. When these two selves disagree, one version of us has to override the other. The part of you that wants to give in isn’t bad–it simply has a different point of view about what matters most.” Unfortunately, our brains are somewhat lazy and naturally prefer to do whatever we perceive to be the easiest thing to do in the present moment. HELLO MR. M&M! Sadly, we do not even recognize we are making a conscious choice most of the time.

A key finding of McGonigal’s willpower research is that willpower can be dramatically reduced by poor sleep, inadequate diet, sedentary lifestyle, and anything that keeps your brain and body stuck in a chronic stress response. McGonigal states, “Science also points us to a critical insight: Stress is the enemy of willpower.” Fighting one’s nature in a vain attempt to fit into a corporate culture or job role is perceived as triggering insecurity and frustration. Fitting in is a tremendous wasted drain on willpower and will leave you subject to impulsive temptations and immediate gratification of your strongest needs.

You Can’t Fool Yourself

There is a danger in a mindset of, “Fake it until you make it.” You know you are faking it. In your attempts to fake it, you use precious quantities of your limited willpower to do something you do not naturally want to do. This, too, raises your stress levels and insecurities, all leading to prematurely depleating your willpower. Now you are a prime candidate for burnout.

Align Who You Are and What You Want With What You Do

I use The Science of Motivation®, developed by Prof. Reiss, to help my clients increase their motivational intelligence and self-awareness. They come to understand and accept their unique values-guidance system to decide what they want to do or won’t do. We can evaluate all aspects of current or potential roles and determine the amount of motivational alignment. The more a role will allow someone to be authentically themselves, the more satisfying and engaging the role will likely be. Motivationally aligned roles allow you to live your working hours in the land of want to and is intrinsically satisfying. This leaves willpower available to delay gratification or choose better options to satisfy your needs. I typically begin working with my clients by completing a Reiss Motivation Profile®. Armed with this powerful and scientifically accurate data, we can evaluate and craft both working and personal environments where you can thrive.

Adapting to a work environment or culture that does not force you to struggle daily against your own values is much easier and less psychologically costly than trying to deny your nature and futilely try to fit in. Your nature has more want to power than your will to power. In the end, it’s not a matter of if your nature will win; it is only a question of when your true nature will win. Our heart’s desires are accurately called needs for a reason. They are not optional to our well-being.

If you would like to increase your self-awareness and motivational intelligence, then let’s set some time to have a conversation about motivation. It’s why we do what we do!

How to Create Excellent Performance

What Does Excellence Look Like?

“I don’t understand why three of my sales reps can be so much more successful than the rest of my team,” shared my coaching client, who is a senior sales manager at a large international firm.

“What do your rock stars do differently than your garage band players?” I asked.

“They get the job done, so I pretty much give them the autonomy to do whatever they think is best to make their numbers. Whatever they are doing is working.”

“What can you learn from the best practices of your best performers? What does excellence look like at each key phase of your ideal sales process?”

“I don’t know. My best three sellers all have very different personalities and approaches, but it seems to work for them.”

“Do your average salespeople know what they should be doing differently to make their sales goals? Is their less than stellar performance due to a lack of skill or will?”

“My guess is probably a bit of both.”

“Can I challenge you to observe and analyze what your top sellers do that makes their excellent performance so you can train the rest of your team also to be excellent?”

How To Find the Root Causes of Performance Issues

There are many tools to help determine the root causes of most performance issues. I often use a diagnostic framework like the one below to understand the current situation and desired outcomes.

You Have to Know Excellence When You See it

Each business outcome is dependent on two independent variables.

1. The initial inputs into the performance system.

2. The process to convert the initial inputs into the desired outputs.

We have much less ability to directly impact outputs. If we desire excellent outputs or outcomes, then we engineer excellence into our inputs and process.

In sales, the inputs are qualified sales leads. The sales process is all the subsequent steps to result in a profitable deal. One can research and observe what behaviors yield the desired results. These effective behaviors can then become one’s standard of excellence at each step of the sales process. Training and practicing these sales skills scales these excellent sales behaviors to all salespeople. Sales managers can then evaluate actual behaviors and provide coaching and accountability to the standards of excellence.

The test for an attainable standard of excellence is, can the desired excellent behavior be directly observed and measured? If it can be observed and measured, then it can likely be trained to others.

Create an Excellent Deal Wheel

Once excellent sales behaviors at each step in the process have been defined, managers can use a simple scoring wheel for evaluation, accountability, and coaching. See the sample below.

What’s Your Standard of Excellence?

Unless two observers can view and similarly score a behavior against a defined behavioral standard, there is no true standard of excellence. Training to excellent behaviors is not possible without first defining what excellent behavior is at each step or phase of the process. Accountability for performing to the desired outcome is reasonable. But when the performance outcome is less than expected, one must focus on the inputs and process to influence a more desirable outcome. An important question a manager should ask is, “What does excellent behavior look like at each step of our process?” Then, the manager should observe the process in-action to evaluate if it achieves the defined standards of excellence. Without clearly defined standards of excellence, the process is unscaleable.

Collaboration Requires Character

I recently enjoyed a fascinating conversation with a psychologist colleague of mine, Ann Daniel. She has invested a great deal of her professional career advising a major health care network on how to live out the network’s behavioral expectations for effective working relationships. One key element which Ann teaches is the importance we all place on our individual sense of security.

Running on Cow Paths

According to Ann, when someone feels insecure or threatened emotionally or physically, they naturally revert to their early childhood learned behavioral habits to protect themselves and defend themselves. She calls these often used behaviors “cow paths,” which she describes as well-worn and often trodden strings of behavioral reactions. They are one’s go-to reaction to feeling fearfully threatened or when seeking to avoid pain in its many forms. The intriguing fact about our preferred “cow paths” is they don’t guarantee they lead us to where we want to go or the emotional outcome we want to experience. Instead, a cow path is just a familiar coping reaction or thought stream that may or may not be appropriate or effective in achieving one’s desired goals or outcomes. Unfortunately, we tend to race down our favorite cow paths towards what we think is safety often before our logical and rational responses can catch up.

As I reflected on my conversation with Ann, I began to think about the key character qualities identified in Gallup’s annual Follower’s Study. For example, Gallup lists the most important leadership traits followers look for in the leaders they willingly choose to follow: trust, stability, compassion, and hopefulness. But based on my conversation with Ann, I wondered if one must also consider the feeling of security as a requirement for inclusive leadership and effective collaboration? This led me to create a model to help visualize the concept.

Copyright 2021 AD Growth Advisers Inc.

For people to form effective alliances and collaborate effectively, the group needs to encourage personal feelings of security. Individuals must recognize when they or someone else has slipped outside the security perimeter and is feeling insecure.

How to Avoid Scaring the Herd

My colleague Ann offered some behavioral indicators of someone’s sense of security. When we are feeling secure, we have an open mind and a growth mindset. We are willing to be curious, experiment, learn, and understand situations and other people. We can access our creativity, empathy, compassion, and respect for others and ourselves. We are free to be our authentic selves.

When we feel insecure, we will run down our cow paths of coping, self-soothing, defensive, and self-protective behaviors. Instead, we become judgmental, angry, confrontational, demanding, blaming, isolated, anxious, doubtful, discouraged, fearful, paralyzed, and even hopeless. We are guarded and are not willing to be authentic and vulnerable.

Our challenge is not to become an insecure runaway cow! On the contrary, creating and maintaining a sense of security is the safest space to build teams, collaborate, learn, form alliances and due leadership focused on change. So what can you do to keep the “cows” safe inside the security fence?

Want some help with your herd? Let’s talk.

The Most Valuable Success Insight You Need to Know

The most valuable success insight is understanding your values-system. Unless you understand your values-system, you cannot experience predictably meaningful, satisfying, and significant success. This is because your values-system determines what you intrinsically value, need, desire, and are motivated to pursue. Your values-system also is the lens you use to create your subjective experiences of what you believe is your worldview and reality. Unfortunately, most people live a trial and error pursuit of successful living and never feel like their needs are totally satisfied because they don’t know why they do what they do.

Professor Steven Reiss, Ph.D., spent decades researching what motivates humans. He created and scientifically validated a theory called, 16 basic desires theory of human motivation. His theory has since been validated and referenced by dozens of other researchers and is the underpinnings of The Science of Motivation®.

Reiss found that humans all value 16 needs. But what makes us individuals and shapes our personality is our differing amounts of these 16 needs a person needs to feel temporarily satisfied.

The graphic below details the 16 basic desires that humans value and are motivated to pursue.

Image Copyright 2021 IDS Publishing Corporation Inc.

What creates our personality are the habits we use to satisfy our uniquely personal mix and our prioritization of these 16 basic human values. For example, A person who is extreme in their need for physical activity might be described as athletic. Someone else with an extremely low need for physical activity can be described as leisurely. The challenge we often face is making sense of conflicting opposite values. The athletic person might judge a leisurely person as lazy. The leisurely person could label the athletic person as a fitness nut. These values-polarities cause misjudgment, mislabeling, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities to create relationships because our primitive limbic system in our brains judges values differences as threatening to our well-being. When it comes to our values, opposites do not attract, they are motivated to argue.

Professor Reiss created a simple online assessment called a Reiss Motivation Profile® that provides you with a detailed blueprint of your values-system that creates your nature, personality and motivates your habits. With the insights gained from an RMP, you can understand what you value the most. How your values compare to other people. Why you feel compelled to do what you do. What creates your greatest satisfaction and frustrations. Why you argue with or avoid other people. What roles and environments will you thrive or wilt in. And much more.

The most valuable success insight you need to know is a clear understanding of what you value most and need most to feel successful. The Science of Motivation® has the answers you need to succeed.

I have personally helped nearly 2,000 business professionals learn to honor their core nature and understand their values-system. As they increase their motivational intelligence, they learn how to create sustainable and life-affirming habits that are most satisfying of their needs. They create ecosystems where they can thrive. They understand how to form more productive relationships with other people, including people with opposite worldviews. They become more compassionate and empathic people with who others enjoy working.

The secret to success and to a meaningful life is simply to do what makes you feel successful and what you find most meaningful most often. A Reiss Motivation Profile® provides you your most valuable insights on what you find most valuable.

I would welcome an opportunity to help you increase your motivational intelligence @ work! Let’s have a conversation about motivation. It’s why we do what we do.

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Living by Remote Control

My wife and I sometimes refer to our television’s remote control as the wand of power. Whoever possesses the remote control can dictate the information flow to the big screen in our living room.

This morning as I was straightening up my reading table, my attention focused on the remote control. It occurred to me the remote is not the true wand of power. Our minds are much more powerful.

The first button is power. Pressing power allows the television access to electrical current and energizes the device to project a picture on the screen. Our consciousness operates similarly. When we are awake, our stream of consciousness is protected into our field of perception inside our minds.

Input is a button allowing the user to select the information source. Attention is the mind’s equivalent function.

Volume adjusts the sound in the same way as passion increases the emotional intensity of our experiences.

Perhaps the most important control is the channel button. If we don’t like the programming we view, we can change channels and tune into something more appealing or fitting our mood. Our thoughts are just like that. We sit in the mind’s station, observing various trains of thought arrive and depart. Some thoughts we focus on and essentially board the train for a ride. Other trains of thought we let pass by. Like our remote, we have the power to change what we think as quickly as pressing the channel button. If you are not enjoying your mental show, think about changing the channel, and you can immediately think differently. What you think creates how you feel. Choose your channel of thought wisely.

Lastly, unlike my plastic wand of power, which whoever grabs it first can control my whole family experiences on television, no one else can ever gain access to your mental control and push your buttons. You always have the self-control to make choices about what you think, resulting in how you feel. Remember, you can press mute to silence any unwanted mental noise and tune out fears, doubts, and unwanted inputs from others.

I hope you find an epic adventure of a lifetime that you enjoy binge living!

How to Erase Fear

Your memories, hopes, dreams, doubts, and fears are all created by your thinking. They are all made out of thoughts. Fears do not have more energy or weight than sweet dreams or mundane math calculations do.

If you struggle with doubts and or fears, here’s my simple and extremely powerful whiteboard exercise to wipe out and erase them.

Erase Your Doubts and Fears Whiteboard Exercise

  1. Write your specific fears or doubts on a whiteboard. Right it big and scary as you can in red or black!
  2. Erase the fear while saying loudly, “I don’t believe that or need that!”
  3. Repeat the exercise every time the nagging thought enters unwelcomed into your thinking.

My coaching clients quickly realize that fears and doubts are simply thoughts. They admit to feeling sort of stupid having to keep writing and erasing the same fear or doubt a couple of times. They quickly learn the control they have over their thoughts, which then naturally gives them control over their feelings.

We don’t have to believe and act on everything we think. While we can’t always control what we think, we can control what we choose to believe. If your train of thought is loaded with fears, don’t jump on board for a terrifying ride. Watch how fast it passes if you let it.

If you believe you would benefit from some help, let’s talk more.


Enough Advice to 2021 Graduates

I have reflected on a post I recently read asking folks to share one piece of wisdom or advice to the graduating class of 2021. Here’s where I landed.

The most important word for each of us to personally define and then accept is “enough.” Enough is the most effective vaccine to the deadły virus of more.

Learn to recognize the feeling of enough and spend as much time there as you can, and you will discover the life you’ve lived has been enough to satisfy you fully.

Why Some People Hate Working Virtually

Jennifer, a Senior VP of a large corporation, slammed down her cellphone in frustration when she read the latest corporate email announcing their indefinite extension of virtual work from home privileges of most employees. What motivated Jennifer’s intense reaction to the announcement? Jennifer is one of the estimated 20% of humans who is naturally motivated by the need for status. Jennifer is frustrated because working from home denies her need for status. She intrinsically values her VIP reserved parking spot, her corner office, and the other office perks that come with senior executive status. The longer Jennifer is quarantined from the status of her office, the more frustrated she will naturally become.

Wise CEOs will consider the motivational mix of their key employees before they choose to eliminate their dedicated office space or shift to shared spaces. Status-conscious employees like Jennifer may not be able to tolerate their perceived reduction in status by such moves and may look to change organizations. If it seems petty to you that Jennifer would be so shallow as to need an office to prove her value, then you probably have only an average need(approximately 60% of humans) or lower intensity value (approximately 20% of humans) for status.

Professor Steven Reiss, Ph.D., was a world-renowned research psychologist who studied human motivation. Reiss’ 16 Basic Desires Theory of Human Motivation identified 16 needs that all humans share. What makes each person unique is their prioritization and passion intensity for each need.

One of Reiss’ 16 Basic Desires is the desire for status. Reiss describes status as, “the basic desire for respect based on social standing…People seek status because they intrinsically value self-importance and respect.” Reiss went on to write, “People feel slighted when they receive less deference than is their due, and they feel flattered when they receive more deference than is their due. Status motivates people to pay attention to and value their reputation.” (Source: “The Reiss Motivation Profile®: What Motivates You?”, Steven Reiss, Ph.D., pgs. 62-63.)

Effective executives understand motivational differences and work hard to create individual ecosystems where people can thrive. Frustration is nature’s focus and productivity killer app! It is designed to alert a person to an unmet need and to get them to change their situation to a more satisfying one. Professor Reiss’s research found that one’s needs are primarily genetic in origin with added cultural and societal influences. Jennifer didn’t choose to value status. She was likely born with a stronger than average need for status. She also cannot likely change or deny her heart’s desire to have her status recognized.

What can an effective executive do to increase their motivational intelligence and keep Jennifer from quitting? It all begins with a Reiss Motivation Profile®. RMP data can help an executive better understand and predict what is likely motivating each employee’s reaction to organizational changes.

If you would like to increase your motivational intelligence, please contact me.