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Broadway musicals and the lessons of succession planning

Recently, the producers of Dear Evan Hansen announced that its Tony Award-winning lead, a ridiculously talented Ben Platt, would be vacating the role on November 19. Platt originated the role through read-throughs, workshops, previews, and finally, a year on Broadway.

The show is a runaway hit, pulling in $1.5M a week and already providing its investors with a complete return on their investment (in a very short period of time for a small theatre on Broadway). While the show seems like it will be fine with a new lead, its continued success is uncertain and there has been no announcement of who will be taking over the lead.

For another show on Broadway, the continued success is known – it will not have any. Natasha, Pierre and The Great Comet of 1812 (heretofore known as The Great Comet because that name is just WAY too long) was nominated for 12 Tony Awards (3 more than the big winner Dear Evan Hansen). It starred Josh Groban, he of velvety-voice-with-little-inflection-but-everyone-loves-him fame. It was a rousing good time. It got a huge boost from the Tonys performance.

And then Josh Groban left the show.

Okieriete “Oak” Onaodowa (who originated Hercules Mulligan/James Madison in Hamilton) took over the role. People loved him, he had a wonderful debut. And about 3 weeks into his run, rumors started flying that Mandy Patinkin (Broadway royalty/Inigo Montoya) would take over the role. It was officially announced. And the backlash was loud and accusatory because Oak is black, Mandy is white, and the callousness of the move was jarring. Turns out, Mandy was horrified at what happened, and refused to take the role because of what happened to Oak – Mandy had been told Oak was cool with it…and Oak did not appear to be cool with it. Mandy’s out. Oak refuses to go back.

And now the show is closing less than a year after it opened because they have no “name” lead and advance sales plummeted.

So why would I spend nearly 400 words on the drama of a Broadway show’s missteps?

Because that could be your organization.

If you have talented, charismatic, AMAZING leaders in your organization and you haven’t planned for what happens when they leave, you could be The Great Comet.

Don’t be The Great Comet.

Because I’m an unabashed theatre nerd and have decided to run this metaphor into the ground, here are some lessons about succession planning you can learn from Broadway:

  • It’s not the actor, it’s the show:  If you rely on one person’s performance for your company’s success, you will fail. Make sure the team’s/unit’s/company’s work and systems are strong enough to stand on its own, regardless of who is in charge. You want that leader to enhance, not overtake, the work that is already being done. Hamilton, the cultural juggernaut that will probably play forever and ever, is able to survive cast changes all the time – because the book, music and staging is just SO DAMN GOOD. New cast members join in service to the show, and while you see their spin in the performance, it’s not about them. It’s about the outcome of the show.
  • Acknowledge that the original star can never REALLY be replaced and adapt: Having seen Ben Platt perform live, I am fairly confident that NO ONE will ever play that role to that level ever again. It is astounding. That doesn’t mean the next person will not be good. It just means they won’t be Ben. If they’re smart, they’ll try to find someone who can create the role in their own image, and adapt the show to that person’s strengths. Your company should do the same thing. If the last leader was well loved and well liked, acknowledge that. Then give them the opportunity to build and move on in their own image without changing the script.
  • Consider staggering your exits: If you know you have a cohort of leaders who might be leaving around the same time – whether it’s retirement or a spin-off or something else – you might negotiate with them to stagger their leaving (assuming you like their style). This will allow you to have stability throughout the transition, helping onboard the new leaders while providing consistency for the organization. Hamilton used this approach. Lin Manuel Miranda (Hamilton) announced he was leaving. Then Leslie Odom, Jr. (Burr) left (apparently to do Nationwide commercials). Then others in the lead roles left. But never all at once. It helped preserve the spirit of the show and passed on the cast’s culture to the next actors to join. That could work for you.
  • Have a long-term plan: Everyone leaves a company – whether they quit, get fired, or die. It’s the role of a leader to prep his/her replacement and plan that exit from the day they join. Lin Manuel Miranda has a group of trusted performers that he knows he can turn to take over roles. Javier Munoz was Lin’s understudy and replacement for In the Heights, and the same thing happened in Hamilton. Smooth transition. Who is YOUR Javier Munoz?
  • Don’t put all your eggs in one basket: One of the biggest myths in succession planning is that you pick ONE person to be your replacement and you’re done. This is known as “pre-selection” and will bite you in the ass. You want to be sure that person can actually do the job, so you want to make sure you’re developing them. But even more pressing is the fact that someone who is high-potential enough to be identified as your successor may not want to wait in your shadow until you leave – they could jump to another opportunity. On Broadway, many understudies are working on originating one role while backing up another (like with Dear Evan Hansen’s Colton Ryan). There is no guarantee they’ll be around to take over full time. Or life gets in the way – Javier Munoz has had two health issues (thankfully, he’s okay). The point is, identify a potential pool of successors and develop their skills. It gives the company more options at the time of transition.
  • Communicate appropriately: That whole Mandy/Oak thing? Totally could have been avoided if all the right players met at one point to talk long-term goals, communication strategy, and impact to Oak. People get nervous when their boss changes. Having a good communication plan can help alleviate that. Additionally, if you DO have multiple people who could potentially take the job, think about how you let those who did NOT get the position know. What feedback can you give? What career options can you share? And…are you prepared for the reality that they may leave because of it? Whatever the case might be, the last thing you want to do is have a communication issue that results in NO ONE taking the role.

There you have it – lessons from Broadway on how you might approach succession planning within your organization.

See? The arts DO apply to the “real world.” (Support the arts!!!)

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2017 in culture, Decision Making

 

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Can you change your industry if you don’t consult?

It happened again. One of those The 25 Most Influential Whatevers Changing the Industry lists. The ones that inevitably have the same core group of names you see on every other list in the same industry. And the ones that seem to consist solely of consultants.

I’m not saying those people don’t deserve to be on those lists. The folks who make those lists have clearly gotten their message to a wider audience and are typically looked to as an expert in their field. And they work hard to earn that recognition.

What I am saying is that you almost never see an in-house person on those lists, what might be referred to as a “practitioner.” Oh, you see folks who own their own businesses and do it well, so it’s not like they aren’t working their butts off in “corporate America,” but they still tend to be on the outside looking in.

There are a lot of reasons why this might be the case, none of them nefarious; it’s just the nature of the work you do as a practitioner. First, let’s look at why consultants tend to make lists more often:

  • Consultants depend on getting their name, brand and messaging out there on a regular basis to build their business. You have a day job, the basic need of getting your name out there for a paycheck isn’t as strong.
  • Consultants are a third-party voice, and as such they get the “fresh eyes” credibility boost. Remember when you were new at your company and everyone thought you were brilliant? It’s the same effect sometimes for consultants.
  • Consultants know that they need to stay current to stay credible, so they do their homework on the latest and greatest stuff that’s going on. Also, a lot of them tend to be invited to speak at conferences, which means they see the most recent products and research…and it raises their visibility in the field.

So that begs the question – can you be recognized as an industry trailblazer when you’re working a 9-5?

Pigeons. In holes. Get it?

 

The short answer is yes…it just takes a lot more work.

First, figure out WHY you want to change your industry. Is it for personal glory? Or do you really think there’s got to be a better way to do it? If it’s personal glory….well, feel free to promote yourself out there and see how long you last. But if you really think there is a better way to do work within your industry, there are a few things you might consider doing on your way to trailblazer status:

  • Be a Mad Scientist: Your current organization is a great testing ground for new ways to do things within your industry. Think of it as your own little laboratory. When you get some interesting results, start sharing it with people in your industry.
  • GET ON SOCIAL MEDIA: I know, I know…EVERYONE is on social media. You know why? Because it’s a great place to network with other people who do your job, too! You can talk to people, ask them how they’re handling certain issues, share your expertise. And you don’t have to go to awkward after-work happy hours to meet them, either. It’s like an introvert’s dream.
  • Put yourself out there: This is sort of related to the social media one, but has a broader focus. If you want to impact your industry, you need to see more of your industry. Go to conferences (if you can). Volunteer locally if there is an industry membership group nearby. Reach out to similar organizations and see if you could visit to learn a little more about what they do. Don’t bury yourself in your bubble and assume you’re a rock star because you have figured out your company’s system. You need to find out about other systems before you can help change the industry.
  • Publish your findings – successes and failures: Publishing might seem kind of formal, but depending on your industry, it could be the way to go. Or, you know, you could start a blog. Or maybe apply to speak at some of those industry conferences you’ve heard so much about. Sharing what you’re doing with people outside of your organization is the best way to get feedback on what you’re doing AND to help influence what is going on in the industry.

Does that sound like a lot of work? It can be. You’ve got a day job, and a lot of this may need to happen at lunch breaks, evenings and weekends. No one said change was easy, but if you really want to impact your industry, you may need to burn the midnight oil every once in awhile.

Oh, and one last thing you might think about as you embark on this quest….

  • Be okay with making YOUR company better: Sometimes it’s enough to make a difference at your own place of business. Not every change will be industry-changing – often, it’s enough to know you’ve made work better for the people around you. And really…isn’t that the best kind of change?
 
 

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Leaders know their business (Yes, even HR)

In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I work in the world of Human Resources. I think it gives me an interesting perspective on how people interact in the workplace, so I write a blog about it. Write what you know, they always say.

I typically focus on leadership (being led and doing the leading) because I think that relationship has some of the greatest influence on the success or failure of a business plan. No matter how great your business strategy is, if you can’t get people to work together well, you’re doomed.

Every once in awhile, I do like to focus back on my HR-centric world. Partially because it’s what I really know, but also because I think it’s useful for leaders and employees to get a glimpse into what happens in HR. Sometimes it’s good to look behind the curtain. From time to time, I also focus on HR because I’m perplexed and a bit miffed at what employees of all walks think HR should and shouldn’t do.

This is one of those posts.Head in Hands

I was speaking at a local HR event recently, and got to talking to one of the attendees. Turns out, he wasn’t really “true” HR, he was the head of operations; and in his organization, HR fell under his purview. So, to his credit, he felt like he should learn more about HR. Good for him.I like when people try to learn a little bit about the groups who report to them.

He asked what I do and where I work, and because of that, we started talking about the water crisis in Flint, MI. He didn’t really know what was going on, so I gave him an overview of the issues, why it’s a scary thing, where things may have broken down, and what we were doing in OUR community to educate our customers about our process and assure that we had the right measures in place to ensure Flint doesn’t happen here.

He was gobsmacked.

Seriously. He was shocked that I knew about my industry, knew what was going on across the country, and knew how my organization was responding to the situation,  both internally and externally.

I said, “But it’s my job to know my business.” And he said, “But…you’re in HR.”

Sigh.

Listen. I am a leader. You are a leader. As leaders, WE ARE REQUIRED TO KNOW OUR BUSINESS. You wouldn’t have that reaction to a marketing manager, would you? You wouldn’t be all shocked that an operations manager knew the business, right? So why be surprised when HR approaches it the same way.

HR leaders, Operations leaders, Sales leaders – we all have the same role, just in different functions. We should have the same expectations placed on us regarding our industry, our business, our customer base, our trends, our threats…all of it. Yes, we have unique expertise, but we apply that expertise to the same organization.

So the next time an HR leader wants to sit in on your staff meeting, don’t freak out. Recognize the action for what it is – a desire to learn more about the business so they can help you be successful.

It’s our job.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2016 in General Rant about Leading

 

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Development as partnership (when leaders and employees get it)

Last week, I had the opportunity to both attend and speak at the Illinois state conference for the Society of Human Resource Management (henceforth referred to as ILSHRM, ’cause that’s way too much to type out).

Hundreds of HR professionals descended upon the Holiday Inn and Convention Center in Tinley Park, IL for a couple of days of networking, socializing, eating far too many carbs, and yes…learning.

I love being able to talk to people from around the country about what they do, what they struggle with, and how they are trying to make their workplace – and themselves – better. And these folks are from Illinois, so they’re chatty Midwesterners who are open, honest, and a lot of fun to boot.

Dancing_Cats

What struck me as I talked to the fine folks of ILSHRM is that we all have similar challenges – high state of change, evolving business demands, disengaged employees, managers who don’t always get it, legal shifts, work-life balance, etc. And what impressed me is that despite all the challenges, these people were determined to find a way to fix it. They believed that by advancing their skills, learning from others, and challenging their own thinking, they might be able to take something from ILSHRM back to their workplace, apply it, and make a difference.

Naive? Maybe. Optimistic? Probably.

Impossible? No.

I say it’s not impossible because all those people attending ILSHRM had the support of their organizations and/or their boss.  Maybe it was a “check the box” exercise to prove the company supports development. Who cares – they got to go. Most were there because their boss/leadership had specific problems and trust their HR team to go find a solution that will work for them.

This conference reaffirmed the fact that when leaders and employees are both devoted to development, good things can happen. Heck, I was there because my boss was willing to let me go spread our brand and bring new ideas back. (Thanks, Gail!)

And for the cynics out there, you’re right – some people attend conferences to get their credits to avoid retaking a test, for the carb overload, for a couple of nights away from the kids. But tell that to the fun folks I had lunch with from the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District – all 10+ of them. This was a group determined to get something out of the conference…and have a fun time while they learned. And tell that to the young HR professionals who asked incredibly powerful, insightful questions in all the sessions they attended. They weren’t content to listen and leave – they wanted to explore, to learn from the collective experience from the folks in the room.

The reality is that this only works if everyone involved is willing to MAKE IT WORK. (Tim Gunn shout out!) Developing employees is more than signing up for a class or a conversation about career goals now and then. It’s about employees stating what they need for their development and leaders supporting them in that endeavor.

It takes two to tango.

Leaders, employees, customers and companies all benefit when development is supported. So I challenge each of you – whether you are a manager or individual contributor – to do what you can to partner for development. You’ll get so much more out of it than what you put into it.

I know I do.

 

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2015 in Managing Up, Personal Development, Skillz

 

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Slow or fast, we’re all in the same race (lessons from the driver’s seat)

No, this isn’t going to be an introspective look at the fleeting immediacy of life. I mean, that’s a real thing and you should really think deep profound thoughts about it, but I’m not in the mood.

I’m in the mood to talk about driving.

As readers of this blog know, I always wanted to be a stunt car driver. I don’t really remember why that was something I wanted to do. It just looked like a lot of fun, and the drivers were badass.

I’m not a stunt car driver (yet), but I have gotten a chance to live like one for a few hours. It’s called autocross – and if you’ve never gotten to do it, I highly recommend it. It’s so choiceIMG_2998

Basically, autocross is a giant parking lot or other paved area with a course laid out in cones. It might be a hairpin turn, followed by a slalom, followed by a 90-degree turn, etc. You get a series of runs throughout the day, each one timed. If you hit a cone, you get a time penalty. If you miss a “gate” or go off-course, you officially get a DNF (did not finish), but unofficially you still get to drive the rest of the course like a baller.

This was the second such event I’ve had a chance to do and, like a lot of people in my line of work, I couldn’t help but notice some similarities to the workplace.

Someone else may lay out the course, but you choose how you attack it.
In autocross, like a lot of jobs, there are a series of obstacles/tasks you have to tackle. The cool thing is that we get to choose the way to get through them. In autocross, you see people who go as fast as they can, slamming on their brakes to course correct, and sometimes it’s not pretty. Ultimately, though, they learn from their mistakes and do better next time. Some people start very slowly and tentatively, afraid to make mistakes, learning the course. And as their confidence grows, they get faster and better. Your job is the same way. You can go fast and furious, or go slow and cautious. Each approach teaches different lessons, and the “driver” (employee) can either choose to learn from them and improve, or get the lesser result.

Most mistakes are minor. Don’t freak out. Keep going.
If you hit a cone in autocross, you get a 2 second penalty. And people might give you a hard time. If you miss a gate or something, a corner worker makes a big X with their arms and you get a DNF for the run…but you get to keep driving and you learned something. Most work mistakes are similar. Did you send out an email with a minor typo? Okay, you goofed up. Own it and learn from it. Did you forget to staple ALL the packets? Nobody died. Don’t be afraid to make minor mistakes. (And if you’re a leader, realize your people will make them!) The important thing is to learn from it.

Some mistakes ARE a big deal. Recognize when it could happen.
In these types of driving events, you don’t drive all that fast. But cars do sometimes spin out and go flying off the course. If you’re working a corner, you need to be alert and position yourself in a place that will minimize your risk of getting hit. Not all jobs are life and death, but SOME ARE. Inattention can and does get people killed. Whether you’re the person doing the dangerous activity, or the support person watching that activity, be alert and do what you can to ensure safety protocol is followed. We all want to get to the finish line in one piece.

People doing the same thing at the same time have SOMETHING in common. Work with that.
People who do autocross events have all different types of cars and come from a variety of backgrounds. In a generic social setting, it’s doubtful that any of them would hang out. But put them in this situation and suddenly they are best friends, trading driving tips and encouraging each other to improve each run. Your coworkers may not be people you’d choose to socialize with. In fact, people are socializing with coworkers less and less these days. And it may be impacting our work experience. So while you don’t have to be a best friend or anything, it’s okay to loosen up and talk like people now and then.

Have a good time.
You’re driving a car through a crazy course. OF COURSE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE FUN. Granted, work isn’t going to be a super fun autocross event every day. But hopefully parts of it are. And if it isn’t, try to find ways to make it a good time. You’re there for too many hours in your life.

Whatever you do – in your “real” life or your “work” life – it’s important to remember that while we all have different approaches, we are all still just trying to finish the race.

Start strong, stay strong, and finish strong by always remembering why you’re doing it in the first place.
– Ralph Marston

 
 

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Get To vs. Have To: The employee’s dilemma

I’m writing this on a Sunday evening while watching playoff hockey waiting for Game of Thrones to start and trying to figure out why our dog has become endlessly fascinated by a piece of paper on an end table. In short, it’s a lovely evening and I’m happy that I get to do this.

I bring this up because as the weekend winds down, people are lamenting the fact that they “have to” go to work tomorrow. (Don’t believe me? Check your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram feeds.) And thus we are confronted by the dichotomy all employees deal with at work – what they “get to do” vs. what they “have to do.”

“Have to” is all the work employees tend to complain about – answering emails, attending recurring meetings, data entry, making phones calls, paying invoices…all the tasks that fulfill the basic functions of their job descriptions.

“Get to” is the work that employees say they want – stretch goals, new projects, visibility, variety, excitement…all the things that a new and different from the day-to-day. swivel chair

In short, “have to” is the work we get paid for, “get to” is the work that engages us.

What’s interesting is how quickly the “get to” turns into “have to” for so many employees. What was once new and exciting gets absorbed into the background as just another thing you work on in your job.

This phenomenon is known as the hedonic treadmill (or hedonic adaptation, if you must be specific) and refers to our singular ability to return to a relative level of happiness (or unhappiness) following a positive or negative event in our lives. Basically, if you’re a happy person, you’ll still be a happy person even after undergoing a setback. But if you’re a negative person, you’ll still be a negative person even if you win the lottery.

Let’s apply this to work. If you (generally) like your job, the “have to” doesn’t bring you down too much. The “get to” is a nice perk, but you don’t really need it because you’re already in a good place.  Chances are, you’re probably more engaged (or at least satisfied – NOT THE SAME THING) than the average person. If you (generally) chafe against your job, the “get to” won’t be enough to change your tune.

So if you are more of a Grumpy Cat than an Oprah (The Secret), how do you maximize the “get to” moments at work?

  • Keep your eye on the prize: Work will feel less “have to” if you find ways to help you reach your long term goals. Working an office day job but really want to be an agent? Look at your internal relationship building as honing your networking skills.
  • Take control of your “have to”: Be efficient and work your way through your “have to” list every day so it doesn’t weigh on you. Talk to your boss about restructuring your “have to” if you’re approaching burnout. One of the reasons “have to” brings us down is because we don’t have control over it. Try to get some.
  • Think of the “get to” as a reward, not a right: Remember, “get to” is development and growth. It’s not something that you should take for granted or sit back and wait for it to come to you. Be proactive and ask for the “get to”. Now it’s something you’ve earned, which can extend your happiness about the “get to.”
  • Check your attitude: Granted, people will land somewhere on the spectrum between Pippi Longstocking and Chicken Little, and it’s okay to know who you are. But if you find yourself unable to appreciate the “get to” in your life, find out why. Maybe you need more sleep, maybe you need some perspective, maybe you need therapy. Whatever it is, figure it out.

The reality is that the “have to” work will never ever go away. The trick is to find enough “get to” work to keep it interesting.

And try to have a good week, everyone!

 

 

 
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Posted by on May 4, 2015 in Managing Up, Self-Awareness

 

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Savvy, not sell-out (navigating office politics)

genuine-stampThroughout my career – in HR and otherwise – I have encountered numerous people who insisted that they don’t believe in office politics.

Well, to paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson, it doesn’t matter whether or not you believe in office politics. They still exist. And if you want to be successful in your job, regardless of level, you are going to have to figure out how to deal with them.

The number one thing people need to remember when dealing with office politics is that you CAN still be “you” while adjusting your style to fit the situation. I’ve talked to employees and leaders alike who claim they would be a fake if they were anything else but fully authentic.  Here’s the thing – there’s “authentic” and AUTHENTIC. The first kind involves flexibility with staying aligned with your values, and successful professionals typically practice that.  The second kind involves a loud, in-your-face, I-gotta-be-me approach that people who use psych profiles (think DiSC) to justify being pushy. (“I’m a D, dammit!! I’m supposed to be that way!”)

In order to be successful in business, you are going to have to figure out how to navigate the politics of any organization’s culture. I use the word “politics” deliberately, as the players each have an agenda they are trying to advance. Some of these agendas are altruistic, some completely selfish – but they all compete even if they ostensibly strive to meet the same goals.  That’s why you are going to have to learn to play this game.

So how do you play without losing yourself in the fray? By knowing how to be savvy without being a sellout, and without being your overly AUTHENTIC self. Check out these scenarios:

  • Boss suggests a course of action that you don’t think is going to work:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: That’s a terrible idea that won’t work.  Let me tell you why.
    • Sell-out response: You’re the boss.  We’ll make that happen.
    • Savvy response: That’s definitely an option. Have we thought about X, Y, Z?
  • Executives begin arguing with each other about small details in your business proposal:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: Are we really going to spend time talking about this now?
    • Sell-out response: Sure, we can do that. You guys just tell us what you want and we’ll do it.
    • Savvy response: It sounds like we have some details to work out. Do we have an agreement in the general direction and we can talk about the small details off-line? Or maybe, Would it be helpful to see the full proposal before delving into the details? Maybe your questions will be answered.
  • Coworker becomes overly aggressive/belligerent in a meeting:
    • Overly AUTHENTIC response: Oh, you did NOT just say that to me!!! (typically accompanied by a waving finger)
    • Sell-out response: Hey, hey…we can do whatever you want to do. Let’s just all try to get along
    • Savvy response: I can see that you’re upset, and that’s not my intention. What are your concerns?

Notice a trend in these responses? The savvy response is all about finding a solution without losing ground. It’s about focusing on the issue and not on the person (either you OR the other party). You can adjust the Savvy Response to be in your voice, and in fact, you should.  The more it sounds like you, the more likely the others in the room will listen and less you’ll feel like you’re selling out to the pressures in the situation.

So the next time you’re in a politically-charged situation, be prepared to translate your overly AUTHENTIC response into one that will ensure you’re heard and one that moves towards a solution.  And you don’t even have to sell your soul to do it.

 Authenticity requires a certain measure of vulnerability, transparency, and integrity.
~ Janet Louise Stephenson

The truth will set you free…but first it will piss you off.
~ Unknown

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Authenticity, Self-Awareness

 

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