Hello my name is Heidi and I’m eternally grateful to an Arguer and a Yes Man, who unwittingly saved me from myself.
It’s over 4 years ago now but I can remember that day so clearly, the day that I found myself at the end of my tolerance threshold. I had gotten up at 4:30am to catch an early morning flight to Wellington for a couple of meetings at the corporate I was working for.
About 30 mins into listening to two colleagues telling me why the way I was asking them to go about delivering a piece of Transformation work wouldn’t, couldn’t, won’t, can’t be done (even though I’ve delivered Transformation for 20+ years) I did something I had never ever done before in my life, I just gave up. I said “ok, I’ve heard everything you have said and yes, let’s not do it my way, you can do this work anyway you want to. You know what the timeframes for delivery are to the Board, so I will step back and you can take responsibility for delivery.”
For a moment there was silence, a few looks exchanged between them and then the next 10 minutes was taken up with them wanting to debate with me as to why I had changed my stance. There was no switch to delivery focus, just more resistance against being given the very thing that they have spent 30 mins arguing for.
I remember leaving that meeting room and saying to a colleague “If my flight back to Auckland goes down tonight and I die, I will be p*ssed off for eternity that I have spent 40 mins of my last day of my life having that conversation”. I resigned shortly after, with no plan, no direction, just an knowing that the corporate career I had spent 20+ years building in both NZ and the UK was over. I remember feeling just an overwhelming sense of relief. I had done it and this time I was NOT ever going to go back again.
What’s interesting about that day is that in the life of corporate Transformation, the dynamic of that meeting was really no different to the majority of meetings that occur when you are working to bring about change. Change is difficult for a lot of people and everyone reacts differently depending upon their own needs. For people who have really high needs for Certainty (safety) change is especially challenging because what’s happening around them feels so out of their control. Under pressure people flick into their needs based behaviour patterns in the attempt to gain a sense of control of both their feelings and environment around them. They revert to their unconscious behavioural patterns of how they interacted as a child with their parents/caregivers, to restore their sense of Certainty and Significance.
In the instance of the two colleagues in my Wellington meeting, one was known throughout the organisation as an ‘Arguer’– a person who disputes everyone’s requests, delivery methods etc but then when left to work on her own, is unable to formulate and execute. Her pattern was to judge and find fault with everything and everyone. She firmly believed that she wasn’t responsible for anything, which really is simply a defence mechanism to avoid being criticised or judged herself.
The other had a reputation for being a ‘Yes Man’, who would say that he agreed with the thoughts/approaches of every person he spoke with. As he was a manager of a department this made life difficult for everyone, because his instructions changed depending upon who he had just spoken to and this made his team incredibly frustrated and resulted in very little getting delivered. But if you take a deeper look at that behaviour, you see underneath it all a young boy who has simply learned to please people by expressing his agreement as a way of meeting his needs for Connection with others.
I’d worked with both of these people for nearly 6 months, so their behaviour in that meeting was nothing new to me. It was expected and I had gone into that meeting with a strategy for managing their needs, but what was different on this day is that I had my own light bulb moment in that meeting room. You see I already knew that the business as part of the Transformation plan was looking to make the whole department they both worked for redundant. All of a sudden I realised that what I was trying to do by helping them to deliver, was to save them. And here they were, resisting and fighting against my help every step of the way. In my mind I was throwing them a life line by helping them and yet they were focused on throwing it back at me. All of a sudden I had to ask myself, who am I trying to save and why?
When I look back over my career, I see I have repeated that pattern of saving behaviour many times over the years, sometimes successful and sometimes not. By the nature of my work, Transformation is about increasing efficiency, which often means jobs are sacrificed and people’s lives are impacted. Some people view redundancy as the start of an exciting new adventure and some people see this as the end of the world. It’s the same situation, yet the lenses through which this can be viewed differ widely.
So what was I trying to save them from? I realised that I don’t like to see people struggling. When I see struggle, I want to help. I really wanted to see them prove everybody else wrong by delivering this time, because I am often motivated by the desire to prove people wrong. If I’m being really honest I see that I was meeting my own needs for Significance by wanting to be that person who finally managed to enable that team to deliver when nobody else had been able to do so. In the past I would have battled on, I’d have totally emptied my own emotional and physical tank in trying to prove that I could save them. And therefore, I was needed.
If we stop pointing a spotlight on everything external to us and simply look at life as being a one-way conversation that we are having with ourselves 24 x 7 x 365, this shines a very different light on our thoughts, behaviours and motivations. It instead shines an inner light on the ghost in the machine.

Everything you are thinking and doing (especially those things that occur repeatedly) is to meet your own needs. Once you have an awareness of your needs, then you have a choice of how you meet them. Without shining a light on your needs, you are simply stuck on repeat. Different environment, different scenario, different people result in the same thoughts and behaviour.

So that day I decided if I was going to try and save anyone ever again, I was going to have start with saving myself first. Life teachers come to us in many forms and I’m so grateful to the Arguer and the Yes Man for that insight, thank you.