6 Communication Habits of Extraordinary Leaders (and How They Manage Conflict)

By Grant Wattie
President, N2Growth Australia

Like him or not, in my view President Obama is the epitome of a master communicator. Next time you see him on television notice his use of communication strategies including body language, voice inflection, gestures, and the intuitive ability to establish and maintain trust.

Communication is critically important for personal and professional effectiveness. In my experience as an executive coach and counsellor, most relationship issues, especially conflict can almost always be attributed to poor communication.

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Bad Leaders Don’t Forgive

By Grant Wattie
President, N2Growth Australia

“The weak can never forgive.

Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong.”

~Mahatma Ghandi

Today I’m writing about a topic that is rarely talked about in the leadership domain, especially amongst corporate leaders. Now, before you poo-poo the idea, please allow me to explain further. 

In my opinion, forgiveness can’t be ignored, because to do so is to defy a natural law like gravity. Forgiveness is one of the primary foundational ways of being for extraordinary leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Jesus and Ghandi. 

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Leadership And Making Choices

Leadership and Choices

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Choice; it’s a simple, yet critical aspect of leadership. Academics and business theorists often gloss over the basics of leadership preferring to trivialize their importance. It’s far too easy for those with an elitist approach to leadership to dismiss simple as sophomoric, and obvious as irrelevant – nothing could be further from reality.  Leadership has little to do with complex theory, but everything to do with understanding the subtleties of human behavior.  Just as you must choose whether or not to lead, it’s your choice whether or not to read on – choose wisely.

At its essence, leadership isn’t a job – it’s a choice. Everything about leadership begins with a choice – even accepting a leadership role. Whether leaders are elected, appointed, anointed, or self-proclaimed, and regardless of whether it is by design or default, at some level you make a choice to be a leader. Once you make that choice, you then must choose whether or not to lead well.

It’s often said leaders succeed or fail based upon the decisions the make. While the aforementioned statement is true to an extent, it glosses over a fundamental element of the decision process – choice. All decisions are the result of several seemingly insignificant choices. By the way, these choices are only insignificant to the arrogant, naive or inexperienced. It’s also important to keep in mind, rationalizations and justifications are choices too.

It’s not uncommon for leaders to feel forced into making certain decisions due to personal, professional, positional, cultural, or political circumstances. That said, leaders are never forced into anything – they make a choice. Leadership is also not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. While flawed and/or failed leaders often blame happenstance as the reason for poor outcomes, it’s their choices that deserve scrutiny when searching for the root cause of calamity.  There is an art to choice, and smart leaders always place themselves in a position to create and preserve options; not limit them.

The best leaders I’ve worked with have a framework for developing priorities, which in turn, allows them to make outstanding choices. They have a clear understanding of who they are, what they value, and where they will or won’t compromise. This affords them tremendous clarity of purpose. It also gives them the ability to align vision with talent and allow important decision making to be pushed to the edges of the enterprise. They recognize it’s quite possible to be very focused, without becoming rigid. Great leaders understand there is more to be gained through flexibility and collaboration than by edict or mandate. They simply make wise choices.

The choices leaders must make are seemingly endless. Leaders choose to control or collaborate, and to lead change or to embrace status quo. It’s a choice to value being right over seeking the right outcome. Leaders choose to be aloof or to be engaged. It’s a choice to be self-serving or to place service above self.  A leader always has the choice to take credit or to give credit. Leaders can choose to create culture by default or design, and perhaps most of all, a leader must choose to care.

Leadership shouldn’t ever be complex, but the reality is it’s often very difficult. Leaders must choose to display the character and integrity required to make hard choices, personal sacrifices, and to do the right thing (not just the popular thing).


Leadership Isn’t About Checking Boxes

Leadership Isn’t About Checking Boxes

Leadership Isn’t About Checking Boxes

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth 

Today’s post is a short rant, but one every leader should take to heart – STOP CHECKING BOXES. To believe leadership can be reduced to task management is simply flawed thinking. Here’s the thing – you can manage to a list, but you certainly cannot lead to a list.  A check the box approach to leadership accomplishes only one thing – it limits your ability to lead.

Leadership isn’t about checking boxes. Great leadership thrives beyond typical borders and constraints – it lives outside the norm. Leadership requires more than just going through the motions. Real leaders reshape, reinvent, or remove boxes, but they refuse to simply check them.

True leadership doesn’t reveal itself by meeting expectations; it shows itself by exceeding them. Leadership looks past the obvious, beyond the optics, and it embraces the challenge of seeking the extraordinary.  Leadership is demonstrated by having the courage to do more than just go through the motions.

Think about it like this – do you want to be a leader who simply does what’s expected, or do you want to be a leader who makes what if a reality? Let me say this as simply as I can: Leaders don’t settle – they move forward. They innately stretch themselves, as well as those they lead. The best leaders don’t have a maintenance mindset. They focus their efforts on discovery, creation, improvement, disruption, and growth.

Think of the best leader you know; now think of the best leaders throughout history – did any of the leaders who came to mind make an impact by just checking the box? The next time you’re tempted to check a box, consider asking yourself the following questions: Is this the best I can do? Am I leading or am I settling? Are those whom I lead better off as a result of this decision? Checking a box is an easy thing to do, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do – it doesn’t make you a leader.


Leadership Job Description

A Leadership Job Description

Leadership Job Description

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

When was the last time you read a leadership job description? We have job descriptions for every position under the sun, but I’ve yet to see one for leaders. Virtually every job description you’ll read lists “leadership ability” as a quality/characteristic/attribute that is valued, and in fact, most list it as a requirement. So why is it we place so much value in leaders, when we can’t even define leadership? In today’s column I’ll discuss the importance of understanding the role of a leader BEFORE you place someone in a leadership role.

The History of Leadership

Leadership & History

The History of Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

I love history, and have always enjoyed being a student of history. Earlier this week we launched a new project: The History of Leadership. The project consists of an interactive historical timeline of the world’s greatest leaders dating as far back as 2000 BC. Since history has been recorded, so have great lessons in leadership. The ultimate test of leadership has always been, and will always be, whether or not it can endure the test of time. Time tells a story, validates or invalidates theories, positions, and philosophies, and ultimately, time shapes a leader’s legacy. While anyone can be great in the moment, few can sustain greatness over time. Put simply, there is much to be learned from viewing anything through a historical lens – especially leadership. I would invite you to visit The History of Leadership and leave suggestions for possible inclusions, debate omissions, and mostly further the dialog around the topic of leadership. Leadership is nothing without engagement – let’s engage.

Great Leaders Are Interesting – Are YOU?

Great Leaders Are Interesting – Are YOU?

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

Let’s face it – the best leaders have always grabbed our attention and piqued our imagination. They have a way of captivating, fascinating and intriguing us. It’s the interesting people with whom we want to engage, as they’re the ones who inspire and motivate us to be better and do more. The simple truth is few of us desire to be led by those whom we don’t find interesting. So my question is this: great leaders are interesting – are you? In the text that follows I’ll share my thoughts on how anyone can become more interesting.

Most people I know think of themselves as being interesting people. That’s all well and good, but the real litmus test is whether or not others find you interesting. Are others desirous of having you be part of their inner circle, or do you constantly find yourself on the outside looking in? Do people seek you out for advice and counsel, or do they ignore you and just simply tolerate your presence? The real question is, do people hunger to be led by you?

While many find themselves in a position of leadership, few understand their role as a leader, and regrettably, fewer yet actually lead. These struggling leaders attempt to control people by imposing their will on others (not interesting), as opposed to attracting those who desire to be a part of their team and then creating an environment which frees them to innovate (very interesting).

It’s a very noisy world, and with more and more people adding to the chatter each and every day, it has become quite difficult to stand above the noise and be heard — this is particularly true if you bore people. Here’s the thing — you can have all the answers, but if people don’t want to hear them what good is all your brilliance? Perhaps the main benefit of being interesting is when you interest people they’ll seek you out — you won’t have to chase them down. When you do engage, they’ll listen.

These five items will help anyone become more interesting and, at the same time, will help you become a better leader.

  1. Be externally focused. You’ve heard me say it before: “Leadership isn’t about you, but what you can do for those whom you lead. It’s not about how much you can get out of your people, but rather how much leverage you can create FOR your people.” Leaders who are purposed about making those around them better will always be interesting and relevant. If you want to be interesting to others, be interested in others.
  2. Stay ahead of the curve. If what you offer (skills, knowledge, etc.) is dated, you simply won’t be interesting or effective. Interesting people are voracious learners and unlearners. They are passionate about both personal and professional development. Interesting people are in constant pursuit of betterment in all they do. They are intellectually, philosophically and emotionally curious. They’re rarely interested in best practices, but they are like heat-seeking missiles in search of next practices. You cannot be interesting if you’re not growing. You cannot lead a growing company (at least not for long) if you’re not growing as a leader.
  3. Add value. Think about the most interesting people you know and you’ll find they’re givers not takers. They add value to those they cross paths with. Interesting people aren’t just joiners, they’re contributors. If you want to be interesting, learn to add value in your roles, relationships, and interactions.
  4. Always leave them wanting more. A little mystique goes a long way to making you more interesting. Let me be clear — I’m not talking about playing games, but simply becoming astute in your interactions. Interesting people don’t conduct monologues — they participate in dialogues. You probably don’t like to be lectured, so what makes you think others want to be lectured by you? Interesting people spend far less time talking and much more time asking questions. If you want to be more interesting always leave them wanting more.
  5. More humility and less hubris. Think of humility as an attraction magnet and think of arrogance as a relationship repellent. The reality is people love authentic humility and they detest displays of arrogance. While you don’t have to be liked to be a leader, it certainly helps. Interesting people are slow to take credit, but quick to give it. Because interesting people rarely shine the light upon themselves, others are all too happy to make sure they receive the attention they so clearly deserve. If you want to be more interesting try exercising more humility.

There’s no denying it’s the interesting people we want have as friends, leaders, co-workers and associates. Smart leaders have long understood the key to relevance and influence is found in how interesting they are to others. Great leaders are not boring — are you?

Leadership – It’s About The People

Leadership – It’s About The People

Leadership – It’s About The People

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth

If you think leadership is about you, your ego has led you astray. Leadership has little to do with you and everything to do with those you lead. If you think leadership is about the bottom line, think again; it’s about the people. Without the people there is no bottom line. Closely examine the core characteristics of great leadership, and you’ll find it’s not power, title, authority or even technical competency that distinguishes truly great leaders. Rather it’s the ability to both earn and keep the loyalty and trust of those whom they lead that sets them apart. Leadership lives and dies by it’s ability to engage, influence, and care for the people. Are those you lead better off for being led by you?

It’s Not About You
Many view leadership as little more than a stage from which to promote themselves. While it’s true being in a position of leadership may afford you a marvelous platform, it’s important to recognize there exists no leadership platform but for the people. You didn’t build the platform, the people you lead built the platform and have entrusted it’s care and well being to you – forget this and failure is certain.

Why Do You Lead?
Leadership can represent a pursuit, discipline, practice, passion, calling, skill, competency, obligation, duty, compulsion, or even an obsession. I’ve known those who have worshiped at the altar of leadership as a religion, and a bit of reflection will reveal more than a few leadership revolutions dotting the historical timeline. Do you lead to glorify yourself, or for a purpose greater than yourself?

Leadership is about trust, stewardship, care, concern, service, humility and understanding. If you build into those you lead, if you make them better, if you add value to their lives then you will have earned their trust and loyalty. This is the type of bond that will span positional and philosophical gaps, survive mistakes, challenges, downturns and other obstacles that will inevitably occur on your leadership journey.

If You Don’t Care About Those You Lead – You Have No Business Leading Them
You don’t change mindsets by being right, you do it by showing you care. Logic and reason have their place, but they rarely will overcome a strong emotional or philosophical position. Trying to cram your positional logic down the throat of others will simply leave a very bad taste in their mouths. This is a very tough lesson for many to learn, but a critical one if you take your duties, obligations and responsibilities as a leader seriously.

The best leaders are capable of aligning and unifying opposing interests for a greater good. You won’t ever become a truly successful leader until you understand a person’s need to be heard and understood is much more important than satisfying your need to impart wisdom (see: Shut-up and Listen). I’m going to make this as simple as I can; leadership is all about the people – nothing more & nothing less.

It Doesn’t Matter Who’s Right
Being right isn’t the goal – accomplishing the mission is. It’s not about being right it’s about achieving the right outcome. If you can only lead those who agree with you then you will have a very small sphere of influence. Stop and think about this for a moment – history is littered with powerful leaders who have fallen, failed, or who have been replaced, usurped or betrayed. Fear doesn’t engender loyalty, respect or trust – it breeds resentment and malcontent. A leader not first and foremost accountable to their people will eventually be held accountable by their people.

Let me be clear – I’m in no way espousing form over substance. This is not solely an issue of likability, but one of trust and respect. That said, you will rarely find likability absent where trust and respect are present. Smart leaders put their people first and keep their commitments. They understand that promises made are meaningless, promises broken are costly, and promises kept are invaluable. It doesn’t matter where you went to school, how smart you are, or what your title is, if you want to succeed as a leader, take care of your people.

As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below…

Leadership and Resourcing

Leadership and Resourcing

Leadership and Resourcing

By Mike Myatt, Chief Executive Officer, N2growth
It’s not what you have, but what you’re able to make out of what you have that matters. Every great leader understands the importance of creating leverage via proper resource allocation. The best leaders possess an innate understanding of how to create resources where none exist – they know how to deploy and redeploy resources to maximize opportunities and to minimize risk. So my question to you is this; are you over-resourced, under-resourced, resource aligned, or do you even know? In today’s post I’ll look at the topic of resourcing as a key success metric for anyone in a leadership position.

If you think CEO means chief everything officer, your tenure in the C-suite won’t be long. Attempting to do everything yourself is nothing short of a recipe for disaster as a CEO, and in fact, is exactly the opposite of how top performing CEOs think. Furthermore, the best CEOs consistently spend time contemplating how not to do things themselves. Let me be clear that I’m not advocating an abdication of responsibility, but rather an understanding of highest and best use of financial, human, and technology resources.

The essence of Leadership is not found in doing things yourself, but in teaching others how to do things better than you ever could. Leadership is about teaching, coaching, developing, and mentoring. Leadership has nothing to do with hoarding knowledge, but everything to do with distributing knowledge. Without leveraging down it is virtually impossible for a CEO to create any real velocity or momentum in growing the enterprise.

It has been my observation that when deadlines are missed, or important initiatives don’t get off the ground, it is usually an issue of poor resource management. When I hear CEOs say things like “I didn’t have time” or “I didn’t have the necessary resources” I only have one question: Why not? When I hear a CEO complain about a lack of revenue growth while maintaining a small sales force supported by paltry marketing investments, I’m left shaking my head in wonderment at how such a huge blind spot could possibly exist. You see if the project/initiative was worth planning and implementing, it should have been worth resourcing.

As a CEO, if you couldn’t resource the project you either had a flaw in your planning process, you misunderstood or misapplied your talent, or you should have never started the project/initiative to begin with. The most successful CEOs are like the corporate version of MacGyver in that they can overcome any obstace with whatever resources they have at their immediate disposal. If you expect miracles from your under-resourced staff you are likely to be disappointed. However if you expect great things from an appropriately resourced staff, you will be consistently rewarded. If you continually stretch your resource rubber band too tightly, trust me when I tell you that it will eventually snap.

Here’s the big takeaway – As a CEO, your goal is not to see how much you can get out of your people, but rather how much leverage you can create for your people…there is a big difference.

On the flip side of the coin is being over-resourced…overspending is not the same thing as making prudent investments. Just throwing money and resources at a problem is not a solution…it simply constitutes unnecessary margin erosion. Overspending is a tactic for the lazy or the incompetent. The trick is to throw the right talent, and the appropriate investment at a challenge in a fashion that creates a certainty of execution while still generating return on investment.

The bottom line is this – apply your best talent and the lion’s share of your operating capital towards exploiting your greatest opportunities or toward solving your greatest challenges. Everything else is majoring in minors…


When Humor Isn’t So Funny

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

The old saying “everybody loves a comedian” has regretfully given birth to a time where everybody thinks they’re a comedian. Sadly, what many have failed to realize is the old saying noted above was meant to be sarcastic…We all love good humor, but the truth is all humor is not good. The timely and appropriate use of humor is an asset to any leader. Likewise, distasteful or inappropriately timed humor can be a significant liability.  As a leader it’s quite easy to get a laugh – your title will virtually guarantee it. Therefore it’s important for leaders to become skilled at distinguishing the difference between a compliant chuckle and a sincere chortle. Good humor can bring people closer, but poor humor can be one of the strongest repellents known to man.  

Did you hear the one about the pastor, priest and rabbi who went skydiving? Just kidding…The very nature of humor is it’s misunderstood more often than not. This makes humor a proverbial two edged sword – it can slice through the toughest of situations to your advantage, or cut sharply against you. When levity is used to appropriately ease a burden or relieve tension it is greatly appreciated. However when your rapier wit is used as a weapon of humiliation or intimidation you are confusing humor with arrogance. I believe it was Winston Churchill who said: “Humor is a very serious thing.” Just because you find something funny, doesn’t make it so. Put simply, to use humor to mock, belittle, undermine, or attack isn’t good humor, and it’s certainly not good leadership. Remember – many a slient tear has been hidden behind a public smile.

One trait that consistently ranks highly among the most admired leaders is they’re confident enough to poke fun at themselves. When leaders understand the difference between false humility (self-serving) and authentic self-deprecating humor (benefiting others) things quickly transition from awkward to funny. Smart leaders have long recognized the best punchline – themsleves. Use the levity surrounding your experiences, mistakes, failures, challenges, etc., to turn teachable moments into unforgettable lessons.

Just because you could, doesn’t mean you should. The mental picture of a whoppie cushion in a board meeting might be funny, but it wouldn’t be appreciated. A general rule of thumb would be if something would get a laugh at a fraternity party, it’s likely not appropriate in the workplace. Jack Benny said: “Gags die, humor doesn’t.” Workplace humor is a tricky thing to be sure, and I’m hopeful the following thoughts will help keep you from falling down the slippery slope and having your jokes land with a thud: 

  • Don’t confuse being a leader with being a comedian. Leadership is job number one.
  • An attempt at bad humor is not an acceptable excuse for unacceptable behavior. Racist, sexist, ageist, and other forms of discriminating acts won’t be tolerated because you attempted to cloak them in bad humor.
  • Use humor to lift people up, not to put them down. Don’t laugh at people – laugh with them.
  • Don’t force it – if you’re trying too hard to be funny your humor will fall on deaf ears.
  • Use your humor to make people feel more comfortable rather than more awkward.
  • Gags and practical jokes should only be used when those on the receiving end find them funny.
  • Don’t use humor to single someone out, use it to help them acclimate.
  • Sarcasm is not a license to belittle someone. Saying “I was just joking” doesn’t cut it.   

Please leave your comments below, and if you have an appropriate joke to share, please do that as well. The best joke will win an autographed copy of my book…

Leadership & Toxic Work Environments

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

I have read a tremendous amount of information over the last several months on the topic of toxic work environments. While these articles tended to stir the pot a bit, they were in my opinion mostly missing the mark. The articles should have been written on the topic of poor leadership. Toxic work environments can only exist where a lack of trust and respect are present, and this can only occur in the absence of sound leadership. Let me be as clear as I can – the phrase “toxic work environment” is code for bad leadership, becasue a toxic culture simply cannot co-exist in the presence of great leadership. In the text that follows you’ll find the truth about toxic cultures…

A toxic work environment thrives off of everything that great leadership stands in opposition to. The fuel for toxicity is conflict not resolution, ego not humility, self-interest not service above self, gossip & innuendo not truth, social & corporate climbing not team-building, and the list could go on. Toxic cultures occur where arrogance, ignorance, ambivalence, and apathy are present, but again, not where sound leadership stands at the helm.

It’s also important to understand that a toxic culture cannot exist if toxic people are not allowed to take up residence.  This is why a value based approach to recruiting is a key component when teaming-out the organization, and is especially important as you build a senior leadership group. Those team members who share the same core values will be predisposed to trusting one another at high levels. Those team members who share a commonality of core values will automatically assume “best intentions” in one another vs. assuming “worst intentions” or “motives/agendas.”

From my perspective there is no such thing as a toxic asset – toxic liabilities yes, but assets, no. Here’s the thing – leaders who allow toxic personalities to invade their culture put the health of their entire organization at risk. Toxic personalities will put a damper on morale, attempt to intimidate and/or manipulate co-workers for personal gain, and can even chase away a company’s best talent. Bottom line – toxic individuals kill productivity, and if allowed to run unchecked can have a much broader and deeper impact on an organization than one might think.

A bad attitude isn’t something good leaders take lightly. Smart leaders see themselves as protector of culture, defender of those under their charge, champion of brand, and steward of trust. Great leaders simply won’t tolerate a toxic team member – the risks are too great. Real leaders will quickly coach toxic team members to a healthy place, or show them the door – there is no third option.

So, what do you do if you’re not in leadership and find yourself in a toxic work environment? My experience shows you have four choices: First, don’t get sucked down into the toxicity – it’s bad for your health. Secondly, assess whether or not there’s anything you can realistically contribute to making an impactful change, and do it. Thirdly, If you cannot, or will not help to create positive changes then get out as quickly as you can. A fourth option is of course to do nothing. If you choose this option you have the certainty of remaning employed in the near term, but at what cost? The good news is in most cases poor leadership will eventually cause it’s own demise. I’ve often said that leadership not accountable to its people, will eventually be held accountable by its people.       

As always, I welcome your comments below.

Looking For Leadership

By Mike Myatt, Chief Strategy Officer, N2growth

Really? Identifying leaders? Have we really degenerated to this point? News Flash – If you have to look for leadership it doesn’t exist…Today’s post is not going to sit well with many in the leadership profession, but then many of my posts seem to have that effect. My premise is a simple one – Leaders need no identification as they instinctively and inevitably make their presence very well known. Place a leader into any environment and their impact will be immediately recognized. There is truth in the old axiom that says “the cream rises to the top.”

Here’s the thing…you really don’t need to work too hard to identify leaders within an organization – they are the ones taking on the greatest levels of responsibility and delivering on their commitments. They are the ones innovating and breaking-down barriers. They are the ones who have earned the trust, loyalty and respect of their co-workers. They are the ones people turn to when things get tough. They are  the ones that inspire, motivate and challenge others. They are the ones that put the needs of others, as well as the needs of the organization, ahead of their own. They are the ones who provide alignment and direction. They are the ones who are engaged. They get the job done, they stand out from the crowd, they don’t need identifying – you know who they are.

I’ve seen many an executive or consultant attempt to identify leaders with interviews, tests, evaluations, etc., only to fail in miserable fashion. I’ve never been a fan of what I refer to as “make-work” disciplines. By that I mean practice areas that serve no real purpose other than to generate a revenue stream for a coach or consultant, or justify headcount within a department. In my opinion the practice of leadership identification is simply based upon flawed business logic, and it is make-work in the purest form. I’m a huge advocate of refining initiatives that allow any level of talent to be developed to the maximum potential. Leaders and non-leaders alike need career-pathing, training and development. I’m just not a believer in attempting to label someone as a leader, and develop them as such when they are clearly not.

Let me be very clear – there is not always a direct correlation between testing well and leading well. Don’t give people tests – give them responsibility. There is really only one sure fire method for identifying leaders – Do they have the character and integrity to do the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. The answer to this test will be born out through their actions. Give them responsibility and see what they do with it. You’ll find out quickly enough if you have a leader.

Organizations short on leadership talent find themselves in such a position for a reason…current leadership failed to lead. If you find yourself within an organization that has a leadership vacuum you won’t fill it by drafting someone into a leadership role and hoping that they perform. Beyond the character test, the first prerequisite for leadership is the willingness to lead. As much as most companies don’t want to admit this, it is highly unlikely that you have anyone in your organization that has great leadership attitude and aptitude that hasn’t already been identified.

Bottom line…the way you identify leaders is not through psychological profiling or some miraculous transformative process. You identify leaders by their actions and their performance. Real leaders will find you…you don’t need to go looking for them.

Dare I ask for comments? Why not, I’m a glutton for punishment…

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