Hamburgers & Happiness: A Lesson in Motivation



Sometime last year, before the days of social distancing, I had the pleasure of taking my young son to McDonald’s. The purpose? To get a much-anticipated Happy Meal (for him) and an ice cream cone (for me). I knew we were heading into the busy lunch rush so I prepared my son with the, “let’s try and be patient” speech.

Upon opening the door, we confirmed it was busy. Lots of people, lots of commotion and lots of families and couples. An upsetting scenario we all know too well: we were last in line. As we progressed forward, I noticed a man several places in front of us seemed especially impatient and fidgety.

I watched as the man approached the front of the line and sternly ordered a hamburger. The associate informed him his meal would be three dollars and some change, to which the man immediately replied, “No! You’re going to give it to me!” The associate tried to remain calm as he politely explained they could not give anything away for free. In response, the man raised his voice even louder and shouted, “You are going to give me a sandwich! Go get the manager to give me a sandwich!” The manager quickly came out to assess the situation and proceeded to give the irate man a free lunch.

What just happened? Why didn’t the manager say no?

I assume the manager wanted to defuse the situation and not cause further commotion. He weighed the risk and decided it was worth losing three dollars to “get rid of” the problem. But did this solve the problem? Or did it just let everyone else know this was an acceptable way to get a free meal?

In both work and daily life, we often run into people who use intimidation to get what they want. Why? Because it works. Sometimes leaders choose to give in to subordinates’ loud or threatening behavior, as giving into the squeaky wheel seems easier than handling the actual problem. Over time, this sends a message to workers that such behavior is not only acceptable, but rewarded.

How can leaders deal with this behavior in a way that is more controlled and fair? Having the courage to conduct timely, deliberate conversations with employees is key. Approaching it in this way gives you an opportunity to listen to their concerns and reinforce the behavior you expect while coaching and motivating workers toward success. So the next time you consider defusing a situation by giving in, instead try to have an impactful conversation that could lead to a stronger, healthier team.

For additional assistance with growing your leadership skills, The Center can help. Learn more at and view our leadership courses here.


westra_c-WEB.jpgCharlie Westra, Director of Manufacturing Services
As The Center's Director of Manufacturing Services, Charlie is responsible for overseeing 12 direct reports in the Manufacturing Services department. Charlie is dedicated to driving advancements in Michigan manufacturing, leading the effort to assist small to medium-sized manufacturers in applying Quality Management Systems, Lean Manufacturing and Transactional Tools & Techniques, Executive Coaching & Leadership Skills and Industry 4.0 manufacturing technology solutions. In addition to overseeing Manufacturing Services at The Center, Charlie provides management consulting to manufacturers, specializing in improving employee engagement with supervisory skills and leadership development. 



Since 1991, the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center has assisted Michigan’s small and medium-sized businesses to successfully compete and grow. Through personalized services designed to meet the needs of clients, we develop more effective business leaders, drive product and process innovation, promote company-wide operational excellence and foster creative strategies for business growth and greater profitability. Find us at

Categories: Leadership/Culture