Tag Archives: effective leadership

Chicken. Pigeon. Cat. Dog.

                                                                         

Chicken.

Pigeon.

Cat.

Dog.

How would you categorize these animals?

Years ago, an anthropology professor of mine posed this question. It was based on the experiences of one of her students who came from Africa. He was smart with excellent grades but he repeatedly failed biology.

One day, he suddenly leaped up from his desk and yelled, “I’ve got it!” He wrote “chicken, pigeon, cat, dog” on the board and asked his classmates to sort them into categories.  American students instantly grouped together the chicken and pigeon because they are birds and the cat and dog because they are household pets.

“Wrong,” he said, “here’s how they should be grouped. Chicken and dog belong together because if you feed them, they will stay at home. Pigeon and cat go together because if you feed them, they may still leave home to go wandering”.

We group animals, people, and things in specific ways based on our cultural expectations. Our cultural expectations are based on assumptions that are so old, so ingrained they are invisible just like the air we breathe. These assumptions then shape our world view.

When our assumptions are harmless, like how to categorize four common animals, it’s mildly amusing. But some assumptions lead to the “us v. “them” world view.  We are convinced that our world view is the “right” view because we never want to question our assumptions.

That’s why it’s naïve to believe that different groups of people can overcome their differences simply by talking to each other.  That’s also why it is so difficult to overcome prejudices.  The earthquake that reshapes our assumptions is internal.

I’ve been fascinated by the question of cultural expectations ever since my anthropology professor posed her question to a classroom of college kids who thought they were really smart but who couldn’t see the assumptions that shaped their cultural expectations.

About Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy.

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When Should I Quit?

when-to-quit

I was raised to believe in perseverance and not giving up. Quitters were often labeled as losers who gave up too soon and therefore never achieved success. Think of childhood sports, like T-ball or soccer, where the coach and parents scream at the children to keep trying even when it is obvious their team can’t win.  No one wants to be a quitter.

The dilemma of whether to quit becomes riskier when one reaches adulthood. Adults who quit are often risking the loss of a job, ending a marriage, or losing money on a failed business venture. The emotional burden is much more severe than losing a kid’s game.

I’ve spent years of misery in jobs I hated before finally accepting the obvious fact that my values were incompatible with my employers. I’ve continued supporting ventures that sank faster than the Titanic because I didn’t want to be branded a quitter. But at some point, our “gut reaction” can’t be ignored. We need to accept that failure is probably the only realistic option.

Recently I’ve been struggling with the decision to quit a commitment I made less than a year ago. True to my usual form, I spent months stewing about it before I finally asked my trusted friends to help me decide what to do. They asked three questions.

  1. What goal am I trying to achieve? I joined an organization because I believed in their mission. Unfortunately, they were already in crisis and I realize now that I was recruited because I have skills that could help them resolve their problems.
  1. What support do I have to achieve the goal? I knew the answer to this question, but had been delaying accepting it. I lack support from the organization because key insiders are comfortable with the status quo and afraid of what change means for them personally. I can continue to suggest needed changes but my perseverance won’t change their resistance.
  1. What will I gain by quitting? Quitting would end the emotional toll of trying to change an organization that doesn’t actually want to change.

There is no bright line test to know when it is best to persevere and when it is best to cut one’s losses and quit.  Asking trusted friends or family for advice is a great starting point for making the final decision because their vision is not clouded by the emotional attachment that makes it difficult for us decide.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Leadership Lessons:  Think Before You Hit “Send”

Undo Undo

In my personal life, I am an unabashed optimist and someone who barrels through situations with abandon.  I’m not dangerously impulsive, but particularly when it comes to communication, I just lay my feelings right out there.  I express my thoughts freely both verbally and in writing.  When I’m emailing or texting with friends and family, for me, it’s all part of an ongoing conversation and I can “hear” my loved ones’ voices through their words.

But when it comes to business, I’ve learned that as a leader it’s imperative to proceed with caution.  When I began my tenure as President of my organization, I was eager to be available and responsive to my team and my constituents.  When I received an email or text, I would jump to respond, usually without considering the consequences.  But unfortunately there is no “unsend,” button.  Early on, I received an email from a member of my leadership team asking for an opinion on a policy issue.  I instinctively responded with my usual cheery encouragement to just go for it.  BAD MOVE!  I casually mentioned my decision to my predecessor who informed me a decision had already been made, before my tenure, to move in the opposite direction.  Oy!

After doing some damage control, I gave some thought to how I could better handle these types of situations.  First, and most obvious, is to control my urge to respond immediately.  While it’s important to be timely, it’s equally important to be thoughtful.  I need to take a breath and really consider the options, try to look at all sides of a situation and analyze the “what ifs.”  I also need to seek advice before issuing an opinion.  There are plenty of resources available to me and a good leader takes advantage of resources.  I can always give a quick, “I’ll get back to you on that,” response and then do my homework.  But it doesn’t serve anyone if I’m too eager.

So what’s the takeaway?  When you’re called upon for input, advice or to problem solve, especially when it’s via email or text, stop and think.  You have the luxury of taking some time to consider your answer, do your research, and consider your options.  I can’t count how many times recently I have started an email only to realize I wasn’t ready to answer, and hit the “delete,” button.  Don’t be afraid to take your time.  And remember: Think before you “send!”

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Leadership Lessons:  It’s Not All Fun and Games

Fun and Games

 

I am, at heart, someone who loves to have fun and enjoy myself.  This does not mean I can’t be serious when the situation calls for it.  In fact my family members have been known to tell me to lighten up, take things easy, chill out.  But spending my time doing things that are meaningful and fulfilling, that add value to the world around me, brings me joy and pleasure.  I am also, by nature, an optimist and an extrovert.  This makes me, for better or worse, a natural cheerleader and people-pleaser.  Whether it’s encouraging my kids or spouse when they face challenges or telling a member of my leadership team that they should just “go for it,” when they have an idea for a program or fundraiser, I just can’t help myself.  The glass must always be half full, darn it!  Thankfully, I have a spouse and others in my support network who are realists and who can bring me down to earth when it’s time for some tough love.

This brings me to the hardest leadership lesson I’ve learned so far.  Sometimes it is out of my control to make things fun and joyful, for me and for those around me.  There are difficult decisions that must be made and not everyone will be happy with the outcome.  Being a leader means shouldering the burden and being willing to face criticism, and to answer for your actions or the actions of others.

I recently had to make such a decision, for the good of the organization.  I did my homework, consulted advisors both inside and outside.  I listened to opinions on both sides of the issue.  In the end, I made a decision that disappointed and hurt someone I care about.  I’m not going to lie, it sucks!  I do not like being that person who can’t please everyone.  And while I stand by my decision and feel confident I did the right thing, it has been tough going.

During the worst of it, someone whose opinion I trust and whose insights I value, said, “Being a leader is not all fun and games.”  An obvious thing, really, but that simple statement brought me comfort.  It gave me perspective and the permission to not please everyone all the time.  It also helped me to see that making a good decision, the right decision, can be satisfying on its own.  Even if I have to disappoint people, something I abhor, there is some pleasure to be had in taking the long view, in stepping up to lead an organization and knowing that this too shall pass.

This latest trial has left me with some scars and bruises, but I feel stronger and more confident as a leader.  I know that next time, and there most definitely will be a next time, I will be better prepared for the pain.  And while leadership isn’t all fun and games all the time, it is an experience I treasure and one I truly enjoy.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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Leadership Lessons:  What’s Your Style?

Style 3

I was fortunate to have two years to plan for my presidency of our synagogue’s Board of Trustees.  And for several years before that, I was a member of the Board and Executive Committee.  Those prep years were invaluable for helping me to observe the presidents who came before and to learn about various leadership styles.  One thing is clear: there is no “perfect” way to lead.  As in politics, there are many different types of leaders and it is important for each to bring her unique skills and talents to the table.  I do, however, have some observations about various styles.  Here they are, in no particular order.

1. The Micro-Manager

We’ve all worked with and for these folks.  They love to have their hand in just about every aspect of an organization and, if you’re not careful, will “check in” several times a day with staff and others to make sure things are “going okay.”  This is really their attempt to control all aspects of the organization, project or event.  Micro-managers can be sweet and lovable, but also very annoying.  Give good direction, trust your team and then let go.  If they need you, they’ll ask.  If you see someone veering off course, you can always jump back in.

2. The “Hands-off” Leader

Everyone likes to say they are “very laid back,” but in practice a laid back or “hands off” leader can be difficult as well.  This person, while well-meaning, is often not very confident in her abilities as a leader and, consequently, doesn’t lead.  Relaxed is good, empowering others is great, but a strong leader models the behavior they want to see in their team.  If your leader lacks vision and drive, if she gives no direction, things can fall apart quickly.

3. Where Does the Buck Stop?

Some people really want to be a leader, but they lack something I believe is one of the most important qualities: accountability.  Regardless of who falls down on the job or which ideas don’t pan out, the leader of an organization must be willing to take responsibility.  No, everything is not your fault, but making decisions and managing outcomes are key parts of being a leader.  Be mindful of who is on your team and what they can deliver and manage your own expectations.  When things don’t go as planned, be ready to face the music.

4. “I’m Just Not Organized”

Not everyone is a detail oriented, chart-making, list-keeping type of leader.  But it is important to develop your own way of staying organized.  In any organization there are many things that require attention on a daily basis.  Some things are more urgent than others, but it’s important to be able to prioritize and manage time.  Remember, everyone is looking to you to set the tone.  If being organized is simply not your innate style, enlist the help of a trusted assistant.  Just remember you cannot blame the assistant if the system breaks down.  See #3 above!

5. “I Can Do It All Myself”

When I was young, my mother told me that a good leader knows when to ask for help.  Along with accountability, I believe this is also one of the most important skills a leader should have.  In planning for my presidency, I got to know a lot of people in the congregation and developed key relationships with people I knew I’d want on my team.  For an extrovert like me, getting to know people is one of the most fun parts of being a leader.  I admit I am still amazed when people agree to help or be on the team, but it is gratifying to work together toward a common goal.  Do not be afraid to ask for help.  No one can do it all by themselves.  Those that try are doomed to either failure, or plenty of sleepless nights and frustrating days.

 

So there you have it, my take on leadership styles.  How do you find yours?  This process takes soul searching, honesty, observation and trial-and-error.  If you’ve already completed this process before you take leadership, good for you!  If not, remember #5 on my list:  ASK FOR HELP!  There are plenty of mentors out there waiting to give advice and guidance.  And if you don’t have someone, contact me here at HerSavvy.com.  I would love to be a part of your team!

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

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History is Alive

Books

I am frequently asked why I love history so much.  History is alive. It’s full of people and how they lived their lives.  Since we learn by observing other people, historical persons are the ultimate role models.

For example, George Washington was brilliant at projecting confidence.  The worse things got, the more he appeared calm and confident. His attitude inspired his troops to continue fighting for eight years in the Revolutionary War. Any business owner understands the importance of projecting confidence to employees, clients, and competitors. Confidence breeds success.

Another guy I’m partial to is General George Thomas, nicknamed the Rock of Chickamauga.  Why? When the entire Union line broke and scampered back to Chattanooga, Tennessee, he refused to retreat and ordered his men to stop the Confederates. He turned a potential disaster into merely an embarrassing day for the Union Army.

Every business owner has experienced a version of Chickamauga when a key client cancelled a contract leaving a giant hole in the company’s bottom line or a project went hideously wrong. Successful business owners hold their nerve, trust their team and battle on to retrieve something from the mess.

History also gives us perspective. Without historical comparisons, we have a tendency to believe the challenges we face are brand new. But there truly is nothing new under the sun because human nature doesn’t change.

Take a look back at the first “world war” known as the Peloponnesian War which lasted from 431 – 404 B.C. Athens and Sparta fought across Greece, then on to North Africa, Sicily, Spain, and all Mediterranean points in between. They trashed the known world fighting for economic and political control. The war created an opportunity for the competing Persian Empire to try to conquer Europe.  It all seems a bit like Microsoft and Apple who were so busy fighting each other they failed to recognize the threat posed by Google.

The Peloponnesian War is described in wonderful detail by Thucydides. He had time to write because he was unemployed after disagreeing with his superiors about the Athenian strategy to defeat Sparta. He’s an early example of making a career transition, in his case from soldier to historian.

Thucydides tells of heroic battles and the suffering of civilians, of spies and traitors. His most memorable character is Alcibiades who sold out his home town of Athens to the Spartans, then switched sides, before pulling yet another switcheroo. Alcibiades eventually sold out all the Greeks to the Persians.

Alcibiades must have been charming because it took years for the Athenians and Spartans to stop trusting him. Today, Alcibiades would be labeled as anti-social or sociopathic. I’ll bet you’ve met an Alcibiades at some point in your career.

These few examples illustrate why I love history.  I have role models for every possible event in my life.  I can see how current challenges are the same or different than historical events and that guides my strategy on how to react.  No how-to book will ever match what I can learn from history.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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Lessons in Leadership: Learning to Listen

Listening

I have recently been elected President of our synagogue’s Board of Trustees, a position for which I had been preparing for several years.  The last couple of years leading up to my presidency, I began paying special attention to the current president, observing her leadership style and comparing it to other past presidents.  And now that I have been in the role for a few months, I’m figuring out my own style and learning some valuable lessons.

First and foremost for me is learning to listen.  My profession as a news reporter requires me to both ask questions and listen for answers.  The goal is to seek out information relevant to the story I am pursuing, digest it and present it in a clear, balanced, fair manner.  It is up to the consumer to draw her own conclusion about the information.

As a leader, I am required to listen first to my constituents’ thoughts, problems, suggestions, complaints, etc.  Often what people want most is to be heard.  For example, there is one older woman, recently widowed, who calls me regularly and will also pull me aside in synagogue to chat.  At first I tried to avoid her, fearing criticism or complaining.  But after thinking about it, I decided to dive in head on when she calls or asks to talk.  What I found is that she is lonely, cares deeply about the congregation and really trusts my leadership.  Now when she wants to talk I gladly spend time with her.  The key for me is to just listen, ask minimal questions and when she is done, I thank her for her thoughtfulness, concern and dedication.

This practice of listening also applies to other leaders in the community.  There is one particular Board member who calls often to voice his opinion, usually on a topic recently covered in a meeting.  With this person, I often screen his calls because he leaves long voice messages, covering much of what he wants to discuss.  He is a really nice, caring guy, but also long winded.  Again, what he wants most is to be heard, so by waiting until I have sufficient time, he can get that need met.  I’ve learned he is insecure about speaking up at meetings and sometimes needs a little more time to formulate his thoughts and opinions.  The meetings are often fast paced, with the same few folks doing most of the talking, and he just isn’t comfortable.  But I value his opinions and I am trying to encourage him to speak up more.

Just before I took office I met with my friend who was the outgoing President.  She said that she thinks of congregants like her kids.  Sometimes they just want comfort and to know someone is listening.  She encouraged me to find my own leadership style and advised me to never forget that I am always being evaluated and observed by others.  It was good advice.

What are your leadership lessons?  Let us know and be watching for more of mine.

About Barbara Dab

Barbara Dab is a journalist, broadcast radio personality, producer and award-winning public relations consultant.  She is the creator of The Peretz Project: Stories from the Shoah: Next Generation.  The Peretz Project, named for her late father-in-law who was a Holocaust survivor, is collecting testimony from children of survivors.  Check it out at http://www.theperetzproject.com.  If you are, or someone you know is, the child of survivors of the Shoah, The Holocaust, and you would like to tell your story please leave a comment and Barbara will contact you.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW WHEN I STARTED MY BUSINESS

Start Up

When I started my consulting business a few years ago, I thought I knew what I was doing.  Starting my own business was an old dream conjured up every time I was sick of office politics and the roulette wheel of re-engineering, right-sizing, downsizing, layoffs. (Pick your favorite euphemism.)  After I was downsized yet again, I took the plunge.  That’s when I realized that no matter how well I had planned, there were so many things I didn’t know.  For example, I didn’t know:

  1. How hard it is to hone a marketing pitch. I went through dozens of elevator speeches and 60-second “songs” in the first year trying to find what resonated with potential clients. I believed in the services I was selling but seemed unable to convince potential clients that I was worth hiring.
  1. How hard it is to set a price for my services. Should I charge by the project or by the hour? If I charge an hourly rate what is fair to me and to the client? I’m still not sure I know the answer to this question.
  1. How hard it is to talk about money to people. When should I start talking about money with a prospective client? What if the prospect decides she/he can’t afford me?
  1. How quickly money runs out. I lived frugally but still blew through my severance package and savings before landing a big client. This is the part of starting a business that most of us get wrong, according to the pundits. It always costs more to start a business than we anticipated.

In spite of all the things I didn’t know when I started my company I recently celebrated another year in business. Along the way, I’ve discovered plenty of new things I didn’t know when I started my business.  One thing I definitely know: I want to continue this journey of business ownership.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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3 Mistakes of Networking

NetworkingNetworking is a skill that must be developed, as I learned the hard way when I started my own business. Based on my experiences, I’ve developed a hit list of networking mistakes. Here are my top 3:

Mistake #1: No preparation. A mistake I made early on was not thinking about what I wanted out of the meeting.  Was I expecting to walk away with a new client?  Could the person I was meeting connect me to someone I wanted to meet?  Who did I want to meet? Was there someone in my network that I could connect to the person I was meeting?  In other words, I didn’t prepare properly. I learned my lesson.  Now when the other person says “so how can I help you,” I whip out my list of 3 – 5 names to which I’d like to be connected.  It all starts with preparation.

By now, everyone knows that LinkedIn and Facebook are great resources for gathering information about people. I want to know if we have any common interests or experiences. I also look at company websites to see who they target as customers to see if there are ways we can help our mutual businesses.

Mistake #2: No show.  It can be a challenge to schedule a meeting because anyone you really want to meet already has multiple obligations making it difficult to find an open date.  But if we’re agreeing to meet it means we both expect to get something of value from the meeting.  So not showing up is bad. I’ve waited at coffee shops for people who never showed and never called to let me know they couldn’t make the meeting.  It’s hard not to take it personally.  To limit the no show problem, I confirm via email a day or two before the scheduled date.  When I’ve screwed up and missed a meeting, I’ve emailed or called the other person as soon as possible to apologize.  I want to limit the damage done to my reputation.

Mistake #3: No referrals.  I’ve lost count of the coffee meetings I’ve had where the other person offered nothing. What was the point of meeting if you’re not prepared to make connections? One of the most effective networkers I know goes into each meeting expecting to connect the other person with at least one person in his network.  Even if he doesn’t get any referrals, he’s helped the other person achieve a goal.  My networking improved when began using the same approach. If I can help others achieve their goals, I will eventually be rewarded.

As I continue to hone my networking skills, I’m sure my list of networking mistakes will also be refined. Meanwhile, I continue striving to avoid committing my top 3 mistakes of networking.

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

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The Perils of a Family Business

William Marshal

Working for a family business can be difficult because family businesses seem to inevitably degenerate into factional fighting. Loyal workers are dragged into the family’s feud and must be clever at balancing the competing interests of the various family factions.  A perfect example is the career of William Marshal, who served a series of English kings between 1170 and 1219.

William Marshal worked for the family business known as the Angevin Empire, which was founded by King Henry II of England and his wife, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Marshal began his career as one of the household knights of Eleanor. Since Eleanor fought frequently with her husband, her knights risked loss of property and life depending on how the marital feud was progressing.

Marshal became an expert at balancing the competing family loyalties. Henry II and Eleanor rewarded Marshal by appointing him to serve their son, Henry (Henry the Young King). Young Henry also fought a long bitter feud with his father that ended only when Young Henry died. At that point, Marshal could easily have found himself stripped of all his property and exiled from England. Instead Marshal was welcomed back into the family business because King Henry II couldn’t afford to lose such a skilled knight and diplomat.  Marshal remained loyal to Henry II during the feuds that Henry fought with his other sons, Richard the Lion-Hearted, Geoffrey of Brittany, and John (signer of the Magna Carta).  Marshal survived to serve as a senior advisor to both Richard and John.

When John died, Marshal ensured that John’s son inherited the English crown. With a child on the throne, the family business was inThe Greatest Knight
deep trouble and England faced a hostile takeover by French barons. Most of the English barons sided with the French, but Marshal, who was in his 70’s, sided with John’s son. Marshal personally led the English army that defeated the French.

Why should we care about William Marshal today? Anyone who has ever tried to climb the greasy career pole in a company will recognize the situations faced by Marshal. He dealt with crazy bosses such as King John, who was crazier than the Mad Hatter. He survived back-stabbing colleagues who tried to destroy his career in an effort to advance their own. He had to reestablish his career each time a new king took the throne. Through it all, his competence and skill made him indispensable to the family business.

William Marshal was a “company man” long before that term was coined and he survived family feuds spanning decades. An excellent biography of William Marshal is, The Greatest Knight by Thomas Asbridge (2014).

About Norma Shirk

Norma started her company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, to help employers create human resources policies for their employees and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to have structure without bureaucracy. Visit Norma’s website: www.complianceriskadvisor.com/.

Like what you’ve read? Feel free to share, but please… Give HerSavvy credit. Thanks!

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