July-August 2011

The developmental digest for emerging leader/managers devoted to growth and excellence


 

Section 1 - Topical Topics

Leadership Focus

The Challenge . . .

Have you ever noticed that some of the most pleasurable and rewarding experiences in life arise out of very simple actions?  It doesn’t always take technology, social complexities, intricate relationships or convoluted processes to give us a ‘rush’ although we are increasingly immersed in such complications these days.

It can be the vision of a sunset, a smile from a stranger, sharing a laugh with a good friend, savoring a taste sensation, or reliving a sweet memory that will make our day. It can also happen when we’re engrossed in a story.

I recalled a number of personal events of this type recently when I was mulling over a challenge presented by a business colleague who had asked for my ideas on how to exert what he called ‘real’ leadership influence. His situation was not rare nor was it an unusual one; in fact, he stated that it happened almost daily; yet despite the high impact and frequency he was still seeking an effective response strategy.

"Just how do you successfully compete for people’s attention when they’re continuously diverted by sexy technology, overwhelming information and multiple options at every turn?” he asked. He reminded me of my own definition of what a leader is supposed to do – focus the desire for change that’s resident in others and then facilitate the creation/emergence of a sustainable new reality.

"These days, it’s impossible to get people to focus on what’s needed for the organization when they are inundated with competing ideas from all over!” he asserted. "Every time I bring up a new idea my ‘whiz kids’ reply with endless other options which they get off the Internet or from other sources and I‘m overwhelmed with counter-proposals and speculative arguments!”

"I’m supposed to focus them but they end up confusing me! I’m bogged down with complicated situations that fuel endless conversations and I’m moving nowhere. How am I supposed to rise above all this?”

It was a worthy question and I agreed with him that it’s probably an experience shared by many frustrated leaders and managers. There has to be an answer, so I went to my never-failing source of wisdom for an answer – my sainted Scottish Aunt, Eva.

The Power to Move . . .

It was one of her most profound statements to me: "Laddie, I’ll likely forget whatever ye tell me; I’ll even forget what ye do; but I’ll never, ever forget how you make me feel!”  I remember the situation so clearly – I’d been in a physical fight with a fellow student at school just before half-term. He’d been harassing and bullying me for some weeks simply because he was bigger than me and he could. It gave him great satisfaction to witness my frustration and discomfort.

Finally, I reached my limit and I’d hit him (where it hurts most) as he’d tried to twist my arm deliberately during a rugby practice. He’d given me a black-eye and I’d given back in kind! I’d arrived at my aunt’s home sporting this ‘shiner’ knowing that she would heartily disapprove of my physical response and perhaps be disappointed at my lack of self control. To my surprise she down-played the incident and then told me she was proud of me for standing up to the bullying.

This, of course, had nothing to do with the current situation except that I was reminded that most significant interactions between people involve emotions. My colleague needed to find a way to reach his staff at an emotional level. When I shared this observation with Robert, my colleague, he immediately said, "That’s not me! I don’t get emotional if I can help it and that’s not going to change”

I pointed out that it wasn’t him that was required to experience the emotion and no one had to actually display it – just use it. He was perplexed. "I don’t understand,” he responded, "how can you do that? I don’t think that’s a skill set I could, or would even want to master”.

"You already have” I said, "it’s the ability to tell a story.”

If you’d care to reflect on the impact that stories had, and continue to have, on your understanding of the world around you, you’ll know exactly what I mean. Stories are many things – they entertain, distract, shock and surprise, inform, excite, stimulate and amuse us – among many other things.

We’re addicted to them and have been ever since we first heard them from our mother when as very young children we first learned to make sense out of a confusing world. Stories offered us patterns or templates that made us feel integrated, competent, confident and above all, safe.

There are facts in stories for sure but these are often the least important aspect and many, if not most, can be incredible. Somehow, factual accuracy doesn’t seem to be so important as long as it doesn’t distract us from the point of the story. The vital element usually resides in the way in which the story challenges current expectations and beliefs and it’s emotional. In this manner, stories can stretch our awareness, our perspectives and perceptions.

We rarely, if ever, walk away from a story without feeling differently about things.  It doesn’t need to be elaborate or even substantial; it doesn’t have to be ‘true’ or defensible. It just has to alter the way we anticipate  and experience realities – the beginning of every learning experience.

So a story has the power to stimulate our feelings, our emotions, and it’s this that makes them memorable. If I were to begin a conversation with you with the words "Once upon a time . . .” would I have your attention and would your memory already begin to anticipate something familiar yet engaging?

Making It Work . . .

Now I’m not suggesting that you begin running a nursery school; as we grow and develop so our story forms become more sophisticated and subtle. A story in business is a holistic communication device to translate ideas in a simple, compelling form and yet can be contained in as little as three short sentences. Stories can be disguised as a personal account, paraded as an analogy, a recalled memory or parallel experience, or as justification for an opinion or position on an issue. Business stories do not often start with the words, "Once upon a time . . . "

Stories don’t need to follow any form in order to have the desired impact although they often describe a situation, a course of action and an outcome. They convey facts and feelings within an established context and so stimulate and/or promote learning. They are usually practical and tangible and this contributes, together with the emotional component, to memorability.

They often describe the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ in a situation much better than abstract approaches. In addition, they will often lead directly to possible action, highlight the human elements, facilitate bonds between disparate groups and achieve all this in a light and entertaining way.

Their main purpose is to move the focus of attention away from you or the situation at hand and into the personal world of the listener. When this happens the listener is free to engage his/ her own private memory banks, life experiences and personal emotions – places where outsiders would not be welcome.

So, a story is a passport that allows the listener’s mind to travel to unfamiliar places in safety. The story is no longer  ‘yours’ or part of a situation; it rapidly becomes an intensely personal experience for the listener, evoking emotions and thoughts that do not have to be made public. Regardless, they’ll still be remembered and often will change the way the listener approaches his or her future.

I use stories very frequently in my coaching and teaching roles. It doesn’t matter who my audience might be – preschoolers or board members, educated mavens or simple, practical folk – they’ll all relate to the technique in a positive and constructive way. I’ve yet to see anyone roll their eyes when I ask, "May I tell you a story . . .?” And yes, I usually ask for permission.

I am obliged to follow some basic rules, of course; I may not

  • use a story that doesn’t have a simple, related point to the topic at hand
  • abuse the time and other resources available
  • tell a story that disrespects or reflects negatively on my listeners(s)
  • engage political, religious or prurient themes
  • employ language or expressions that are distracting in themselves, or
  • use stories for self promotion.

These are six simple and straightforward guidelines that will keep you on track and out of trouble; there could be a few others that you could add to your repertoire as you gain momentum. As an example, I prefer to avoid the use of jokes since they’re so available on the internet these days and they can back-fire so easily; others however can use them with great effectiveness.

A Treasure Trove . . .

Remember that the primary strategy is to transfer the focus of attention from you and the situation to the private reality of the listener; anything that accomplishes this within the six rules is fair game. So where might you look to find appropriate inspiration for your stories?

Some of my favorite places are self-evident. Among many other sources, I’ve used:

  • Personal experiences and memories
  • Other people’s experiences and memories
  • Published writings, film and television
  • Photographs and other works of art
  • Fables and anecdotes
  • Items in nature.

As previously mentioned, most stories are simple, personal, tangible and relate to real experiences; they describe a situation, an action or actions and an outcome. On top of this there’s a clear protagonist and one or more antagonists – just to stimulate and engage the emotional reactions of the listener. That’s it!

When I put a story together, I begin with the point I’m attempting to make clearly in mind; then I trace the feelings that would likely have an impact on others’ perspectives. As an example, when I want to draw a clear distinction between intelligence and wisdom I could use an academic or conceptual approach (and likely lose my audience) or I could tell a personal story about a situation when I had a ‘flash of insight and situational awareness’. The story that fits so well for me in this case is when I learned that you can catch a trout by knowing about fish and their habits (discovering how to tickle trout) much more readily than learning about fishing rods.

It isn’t rocket science but it does take some thought and careful preparation; I had to learn not to rush into a story without first thinking about the point I wanted to make, my audience and their reality, and how to get the point across elegantly. It took some practice but I can now rely on my stories to convey my messages while my audiences both enjoy the telling and, more importantly, they own the conclusions they draw from the experience.

Since we’re all different, there will always be stories to share; I have heard some stories many times over and yet I rarely pass up the opportunity to hear them again. Some, like gold, seem to get better with every refinement. Also, stories are ‘common currency’, acceptable almost everywhere and a sound basis for trade. The more I trade with another person the stronger the relationship becomes – and that can’t be bad!

The Bottom Line . . .

Robert took the message to heart and worked on a few selected stories. When I spoke with him last week and raised the topic, he looked at me sideways and said, "Oh that! I guess it’s not the problem I thought it was. Anyway, I don’t seem to be having so many difficulties now”.

I didn’t pursue the issue then but in a few months perhaps I’ll get him to tell me a story about how he reaches his people amidst the noise of technology, complex and fast-moving change scenarios and competing ideas.

But that will be another story!


I’d welcome your questions, comments and suggestions. We can all learn through dialogue and your viewpoints will undoubtedly gain more value when shared. Please contact me at david@andros.org.



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Timely Insights

  • The new way to lead . . .

Nothing in business has changed as fast in the past 20 years as effective CEO leadership. Command-and-control hierarchies are largely being outplayed by flatter and more codependent leadership styles premised on the conviction that management no longer knows much more than anyone else, and that growth flows from harnessing the creativity and commitment of everyone in the organization.

Based on the companies I’ve studied and the entrepreneurs Rick Spence has known, here are his seven key leadership traits for business today. You may possess most of these already, but just to be sure, check with your management team — and maybe the folks in the lunchroom, too.

First check out Rick’s article in PROFIT magazine’s June issue.

  • Pivotal Leadership – Leaders Matter!

If you are the top person in your organization you have an awesome responsibility, likely more than you ever bargained for and certainly more than you’ve probably contemplated.

In a Swedish study, it was found that those with bad bosses suffered 20% to 40% more heart attacks! Find out what top leaders need to do to invest their time and efforts more productively and to set a positive tone for the organization.

Over 95% of the workforce rely and depend on you to set the tone for the company and to shield them from unwarranted stress and aggravation. If you do this well, they’ll stay with you; if you don’t, they’ll leave – not just the organization, they’ll leave you!

Drake Business Review’s June issue carries this article, among others – take a look!

  • Quotable Quotes . . .

"Man imposes his own limitations, don't set any."  -- Anthony Baily

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

"Learn from the past, set vivid, detailed goals for the future, and live in the only moment of time over which you have any control: NOW." -- Denis Waitley

"If something comes to life in others because of you, then you have made an approach to immortality." -- Norman Cousins

"The best preparation for tomorrow is doing your best today."  -- H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

 


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Section 2 - Talk Back

Coach's Corner

A selection from frequently–asked questions

Dear Coach,

I’ve acquired a self-defeating habit – procrastination. It’s beginning to affect my career and even my important relationships.

I’ve tried a number of things without real success; after a few short weeks I just go back to my old ways. One of these days I’m going to do something about it; meantime, is there anything you would recommend that could help me get things done while making life easier for me?

Response:

I love your self-deprecating humour! There’s hope for you yet!

Procrastination is widespread and pervasive; some sources say it’s in the top three ‘career-limiting’ habits among business managers. There’s no question about its ability to rob any person of quality of life through diminishing self-fulfilment and sense of accomplishment.

This is one notable feature of procrastination - it affects us all from time to time; I know of no one who can honestly claim that it has never been a factor or concern at some point. Many of us can identify specific and major losses and/or disappointments that can be traced back to this chronic condition and some of these can be life-altering!

The good news is that behavioural science has discovered several sure-fire strategies that are of substantial help; in addition, almost every person you meet will be able to share a few ideas and techniques that have worked for him or her. The secret here though, is not to succumb to short-term, easy fixes but to build a full personal strategy that will fix things for you in a sustainable way.

Let’s recognize that we’re all individuals with a complex personality or character that we’ve assembled over our lifetime to date. Along the way we’ve experienced a rapid start-up between the ages of zero to six/seven years when we readily assimilated the values and perspectives of influential people in our lives. Then we became more selective but no less hungry for input as we pursued our formal education and mastered life.

In the process of building character we acquired a number of values-in-action which may have served us well for a season but which could be having negative benefits for us today or tomorrow. Among these are the trait of obedience (which relieved us of the need to develop self discipline) and the trait of acceptance (which had to be replaced with some form of questing). More importantly, we learned originally to have fun in order to learn and adapt but then later we experienced the need to take life more seriously.

Each of these transitions, and a few others besides, has demanded a shift in our perspectives and perceptions, some of which we may not have mastered properly. As a result, we’re facing life’s challenges with a sub-optimal set of coping skills which are perhaps inadequately suited to meet today’s needs.

The strategy for you to consider is centered on personal awareness and adaptability.

First you need to raise your awareness of your inherent strengths – the behaviours that are supported by your strongest personal values. You’ll recognize these as your passions – those personal attributes that you engage consistently and which stimulate and energize you.

Then you create an implementation strategy which employs these strengths, either for direct outcomes or for trading off with others, doing for them what you’re good at and allowing them to reciprocate in areas where they are stronger but you have less drive and contribution to offer.

For example, if I’m passionate about curiosity, innovation and design, and you get really high on working with other people to coordinate activities and results, we could cooperate on any initiative where I’ll drive the planning and you’ll manage implementation phases. This way we both enjoy winning and can become friends.

Here are some general points for you to consider that might help you locate the deeper-seated reasons for your current perspectives, perceptions and related habits as you develop and apply this strategy:

  • Have fun – we should never forget that we learn best when we’re engrossed in activity, using our imagination, enjoying role-playing new experiences, and exploring at the frontiers of our capabilities.
  • Be optimistic – use positive expectations and confirming self-talk; Henry Ford is credited with the axiom, "Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re probably right!”  He was right!
  • Use all the Strengths and skills available to you – which means learn about, encourage and solicit those useful inherent strengths in others; everyone performs best in areas where they’re passionate.
  • Share the load – find a buddy and work together, sharing available resources, risks and rewards as you go. Life, like love, is a lot more fun when you share it with someone else.
  • Be self directed and ‘other aware’ – know what it is you have to contribute as well as what your limitations are; encourage others to do likewise and, above all, respect each others differences.
  • Celebrate every small success along the way – you do not need to defer rewards until the job is completed; break it into portions and celebrate each and every stage of accomplishment.

These six points are not a strategy so much as an approach, a perspective and a mindset. We build solid relationships to enhance the quality of our lives but we often forget that reaching out to the world in order to add real value with and through others is what life is actually all about.

So think more about creating enhanced life experiences than about securing outcomes – it’s easier and a whole lot more fun that way!

I hope this helps.

 

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Commentary

The Servant Leader . . .

When I was reflecting on leadership development a few days ago – something I’m prone to do quite often because it’s central to my life’s purpose – I was asked a provocative question; "Who do you serve?”

The originator of the question, Professor Modesto Maidique of Harvard Business School, posed the issue in an article entitled "Are You a Level Six Leader?” published in July’s Harvard Business Review. He asserts that this is the central, most telling question to ask any leader.

He goes on to propose a six-level response matrix based on the core premise that ‘servant leadership’ is a pivotal aspiration. I believe he is right in that many people would subscribe to the idea that leaders serve others. He then suggests that a leader’s impact and effectiveness will depend on whether the focus is on self, the group or society as a whole, just to cite three of the six possible options.

This is indeed intriguing. He says that this question is a powerful vector on which to build a useful typology for leadership development. Basing his hypothesis on previous work by Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg and Robert Keegan, he suggests that the question of focus often reveals more about leaders than knowing their personality traits, level of achievement or whether they are transactional versus transformative in orientation.

Let’s review briefly the six levels that he proposes:

  • Level One – Sociopath – serving no one, this is an antisocial personality disorder (DSM-III) exhibiting abnormally low empathy, destroying value, oneself and ultimately others. It’s perhaps represented in Gaddafi, Hitler and Hussein and found in less than I percent of the population, almost all being males.
  • Level Two – Opportunist – serving only him/her self often at the expense of others; the key issue is ‘What’s in it for me?”, and the moral compass points mainly at material rewards almost at any cost. Typical of this genre are Madoff (Ponzi), Skilling (Enron) and a few others who have recently attained notoriety.
  • Level Three – Chameleon – who will bend with the wind, striving to please as many as possible at all times, either locally or broader. They rarely attain top rank in business although they can do well in politics. US Senator John Kerry is a prime example, pilloried for his ‘flip-flop’ stance on the Iraq War.
  • Level Four – Achiever – who often substitute the needs of the whole with their own personal striving to succeed and who currently dominate senior executive ranks in business; they exceed expectations, out-perform others and benefit many; they’re Drucker’s "Monomaniacs with a Mission”. Highly-prized and even idolized by business, we could include, among others, Welch, Iaccoca, and Fiorina/Hurd (HP)
  • Level Five – Builder – those who strive beyond goals to build the organization as well as individuals within it and thus become legends in their own time; they serve for the long-term through visioning, infecting others with their energy, enthusiasm and integrity, thus acting as role models for so many others. Representatives we could include here are Watson (IBM), Sloan (GM), and even Oprah Winfrey.
  • Level Six – Transcendent – going to the next dimension where issues of culture, gender, creed and society are irrelevant. These are Gardiner’s "Global Citizens” who serve mankind and work beyond the present space/time continuum. They are exceedingly rare but we could suggest Mandela, Gandhi and perhaps great religious leaders as possible candidates.

This all makes good sense as long as we recognize that we would be unlikely to even acknowledge levels one through three as leaders at all. In addition, most individuals are likely to progress from level two upwards as they mature in their leadership roles, until such time as they cease to develop. They may, therefore, exhibit the characteristics of several levels at one time or possibly reflect different levels depending on the situation in which they find them selves at any given point.

I suspect too, but have no hard evidence to support my view, that there are levels within levels, especially within levels three through six. It is, however, a useful framework for development and the issue of focus is indeed a very important one for all aspiring leaders.

If it provokes you to think about where you would like to be as well as where you are currently, and then to reflect on those behaviours you might need to change in order to develop positively, it has been immensely helpful. Go for it!


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Commentary 2

Lessons from a Leader

.... Lorraine Godwin, Regional Business Director, North America, GEOSOFT INC.   

I learned a lot about leadership from Cody. Under his watchful eyes, I learned the importance of how a confident, empathetic leader with a clear vision, can motivate people through mutual trust and respect.

When Cody followed me around the stable without any ropes tying him to me, it was one of those profound moments in my life. Oh, wait....did I mention that Cody is a horse?

The Polaris Program took us to the Horse Sense Leadership Centre where we learned about leadership through working with horses. The exercise highlighted key aspects which are important in the various leadership roles we fulfill in our lives, whether as managers, mentors, coaches, or parents.

Confidence

Because horses are prey animals, they live in herds for survival and rely on their leader in moments of danger for guidance. When I first approached Cody, he needed to establish if I was a leader.

I was nervous and anxious to prove myself to him, and was quick to make a lot of mistakes. First, I neglected to acknowledge that since a horse has eyes on the side of their head, their natural blind spot is directly in front of them. Imagine Cody's reaction when I approached him from the front, and then proceeded to pet him on his nose! Sensing my inexperience, Cody jostled me to his side where he could keep his watchful eye on me. By doing so, he was also testing my physical boundaries.  With a firm, raised hand, I was quickly able to establish my personal space which demonstrated to Cody that I was a confident leader. He respectfully acknowledged this by standing quietly by my side.

Empathy

The next test was to establish the kind of leader I am. Would I lead by pulling him along, by enticing him through rewards, or by using threats or punishment? By observing Cody's body language in response to my own, I learned how an empathetic leader acknowledges individuals’ strengths, observing how they respond in different circumstances, and encourages them through personal motivation.

Trust and Respect

In short order, I was able to get Cody to follow me. However, the ropes were still on, and I had no way of knowing if he was following me of his own volition.

So, the ropes came off and the true test of my leadership began. I exhaled slowly, looked towards our destination, and confidently set off towards it. The profound moment came when I felt Cody's nose nuzzling my shoulder as he followed me around the stable. The bond that we shared came through our mutual trust and respect in one another, and his confidence that I would get him to our destination safely and successfully.

Truly a memorable and moving experience.

Cody taught me a lot that day. The exercise highlighted important aspects of leadership, helped me understand the kind of leader I want to be, and at the end of the day, taught me some good, old-fashioned horse sense.

Well, that’s the way I see it anyway!


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Section 3 - On The Horizon

Oh Canada

We Are People Making A Global Statement On Leadership

.... By Jeff Haltrecht

Jeff Haltrecht is a principal Leadership Coach at the Polaris Learning Academy and the Facilitator of the Polaris Alumni; he is a regular contributor to Polaris Digest

You could call it a story about a Prince and Princess who were able to capture the imagination of the people and make them feel important.  After all, Canada was the first international destination the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited since becoming newlyweds earlier in the year.

But in reality, our ability to relate to Prince William and Princess Kate has nothing to do with how they made us feel, but how we feel about each other as proud Canadians.

The people of Canada have grown as individuals and as a society in the past 3 to 5 years, from the belief of its ‘okay to be second’, to the humble confidence that we now portray when we put our foot down and take a stand.

Looking at the pictures of the Royal Tour, reading business leader’s comments about how potash is a core asset, or watching live when one of our athletes win big, I see pride, confidence, and strength.

We are writing our own story now, complete with new heroes, values, and rituals, which we celebrate en masse – yes, in large groups, in public, freely and safely.  Where else in the world can you do that?

Not a believer yet?  I trace this change in attitude back to Canada being the first G7 country to balance their finance books.  Call this the foundation of confidence.  Now, in the past three years alone, we have displayed to the world our strength in numbers:

  1. The strongest and healthiest banking system
  2. Defending core assets in potash
  3. TMX shareholders turning down an acquisition offer from the London Stock Exchange
  4. Winning the most gold medals at the winter Olympics
  5. Being world champions in hockey and curling for both men and women
  6. Formula One realizing they could not live without the Montreal Grand Prix
  7. The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge choosing Canada as their first international visit

And these are just seven examples!  We will be able to tell our children how the people of Canada – all races and religions – became unified behind a set of values and leveraged our heroes to make ourselves feel proud.  We have taken ownership of our future and are shaping the country’s new reality.  It’s our story now.

— Go Canada Go —


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Bulletin Board

Introducing the NEW Polaris website

We are pleased to introduce the NEW Polaris website at www.polarisprogram.com.  The design communicates effectively the unique features and benefits of this highly acclaimed leadership development program.  You will find an excellent program outline along with resources, articles and discussion guides for your continuous learning at the new web site.  Be sure to take a look yourself and then refer the web site to colleagues and friends whom you believe would benefit from the Polaris learning experience.

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Your Development

Polaris Leadership Academy now accepting new participants

Now is the time to register for participation in the next Polaris program.  This is your opportunity to grow significantly as a leader and to become a key driver of your organization’s future.
  • Are you finding it difficult to engage and mobilize your people and/or peers?
  • Do your messages and points of view go unheard in the organization?
  • Do you struggle to build strong relationships?
  • Do you often feel like a voice in the wilderness?
  • Do you know deep down that you could do more?

If you answered ‘yes’ to even one of these questions, you will profit from Polaris.  Through insightful assessment, tutoring and constructive coaching, we identify, stimulate and develop positive and enduring leaders and managers, helping you to prepare for more substantial contributions, more significant roles and greater responsibilities.

Over a period of a full year we cover 9 strategies in depth through a series of interactive workouts and practicums shared with peer-level colleagues and augmented by one-on-one individual coaching.  You will gain greater self insights and awareness of personal strengths and competencies as well as learn how to leverage knowledge, skills, experience and relationships to secure enhanced results. Through this experience you become increasingly focused, self confident and resilient, contributing real value to the organization in practical, measurable ways.

Visit www.polarisprogram.com  or call David at 416-254-4167 to find out more.


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