On Leadership and Knowing Your Audience

Know Your Audience

Imagine this in your current role: You have taken a position on an issue that really matters to you. And you now need the backing of some of your key colleagues to turn your ideas into reality. 

So what should you be thinking at this point?

Leading Your Path to Success

In thinking about your next steps:

  • You recognise that without the active support of certain of your peer group or seniors you will find it a challenge to move head.
  • You decide that the best thing to do will be to speak with them so that you can take them through your thinking and influence them about the merits of your case.
  • Your arguments make total sense to you. You think they represent good value for your employing organisation, your teams and your customers.

But when it comes to speaking with your senior colleagues about the issues, you find that no one else gets it.  In fact, you are stumped by the degree to which they don’t get it.  As far as you are concerned, you put your case clearly, your arguments were robust and the benefits you described were crystal clear.

And yet still no one else around the table gets it…

Your views were dismissed outright by some of the leaders present and only considered in a shallow way by others.  You were baffled and still don’t know what happened.

On Knowing Your Audience

What could account for why a perfectly sound set of arguments fell on deaf ears?  Put simply, your ideas didn’t hit the spot because you didn’t position them carefully enough for them to appeal to your audience given their concerns, their priorities and their values.

Your plans appealed to you. But they didn’t appeal to your audience to the same degree because you:

  • Didn’t spend enough time at the start of the meeting positioning your proposals to appeal to your audience’s ears and not your own.
  • Didn’t manage the perceptions you created in the minds of your audience carefully enough.
  • Used the wrong arguments.
  • Started the discussion in the wrong place by going straight to your agenda instead of theirs. And, in this case, these two agendas were crucially different.

A Case in Point

Consider the following example:

A team leader decides to approach his boss and outline his plans to re-organise the management structure in his large customer-facing team.  The team leader involved is methodical, systematic and logical in his work style. He succinctly describes to his manager the inefficiencies in the current team structure, the ways in which these inefficiencies adversely affect customer service, and the ways in which they create challenges for inter-dependent teams.

None of this is news to his boss who is well aware of the shortcomings of the team structure. Then the team leader identifies the specific changes in the reporting lines which he wants to bring about, and tells his boss about these too. He is not expecting to have to argue the point. They’ve talked about these problems before, although this is the first time he has presented her with a solution.

He sees this discussion as a done deal and is simply amazed to discover that his arguments do not meet with his boss’s approval.

In fact, she moves the conversation on immediately to a series of other issues which are on her agenda telling her team leader that “This isn’t a good time to be making changes.

The team leader now faces a choice between asking her for more information about why she isn’t interested in his proposals, going ahead with his re-structure anyway and potentially incurring her displeasure, or dropping plans to which he is quite wedded.

Let’s Examine This…

So what happened? 

The boss regards her team leader as being somewhat into the detail and not strategic enough in the way he goes about his business. She has long held this view and has made it an issue between them several times, although never to the point of dismissing his plans before.

She is very much preoccupied with falling sales figures and the impact of the recession, issues which her team leader is aware of but which he hasn’t factored into his thinking sufficiently before he approaches her.  She thinks that her report isn’t bold enough or courageous enough in his plans for his team, doesn’t focus sufficiently well on new business development, and tends to make incremental changes which he values but which she doesn’t think add sufficient value to justify the amount of time it takes him to originate them.

As soon as he starts to speak about altering the reporting structure in his team she, being as preoccupied as she is, forms the view that he wants to make another series of small scale alterations which won’t add much overall value to her operation at a time when her figures are down, clients are not ordering in bulk, and the recession is affecting her revenue streams.

Given all these circumstances she thinks she could reasonably have expected some effective support from her report, and when she hears him wanting to take up her pressured and valuable time with another minor tweak, she switches off without really listening to him and moves the discussion on to other things.

From the point of view of her report, however, a number of issues have been raised. Each of the strengths of his proposition, in fact all of the compelling aspects of it as he would see it, were regarded as weaknesses by his boss to the point where she wouldn’t even consider them.  Instead of gaining political currency for his proactive problem-solving and customer focus, the team leader finds that he loses credibility with his boss in a situation in which they could reasonably have expected to gain it.

Positioning Your Plans and Proposals Effectively

So, what can he learn from this situation? 

  • He needs to think through what his plans and proposals will sound like – what they will mean – to his boss given her different style, values and priorities.
  • He knows she is highly focused on sales and worried about the impact of the recession on the organisation’s figures.  So, to gain her buy-in and appear to be up to speed as she sees it, he needs to start the meeting with his boss: with her current and longer term goals, her priorities on  that day and her concerns at the moment.
  • Having touched based with her and found out what is on her mind, he could then position his re-structure to appeal to her agenda.
  • He could say that while his plan might not bring in more business it will certainly enable existing customers to receive a more consistent and timely standard of service.
  • He could say that it would free up more of his team’s time to examine viable ways of adding value to the services they offer to their existing customers, and enable them to look for opportunities to sell add-on services to them.

Leading a Better Approach

Handling things this way will mean that he presents himself to his boss as someone who is on the same page as her, sharing the strain of getting the numbers up while also presenting himself as proactive and able at adding value to the operation. Using this approach will make it much more likely that he:

  • Avoids appearing out of touch with his manager’s reality.
  • Avoids a series of value judgments which his boss will make about him if she hears his plans as trivial or unimportant.
  • Gives himself the best chance of securing the endorsement of his boss to his proposals.

So, the next time you approach a key set of colleagues to secure their endorsement to your plans: think through how you can best link your proposals to the issues that sit at the top of their priority list so that you stand the best chance of getting the level of buy-in and active commitment you need.

Identify a situation in which you want to influence your peers or seniors to endorse your plans.  Who did you want to influence and in what way?  How will you position your argument with them? What key points do you plan to emphasise?  In what ways will these points appeal to them given their priorities and values?  Where do you want to start to meeting to have maximum influence?  What aspect of your proposals will appeal most strongly to your colleagues and how do you want to present these issues to them?


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Aryanne Oade is Director of Oade Associates
She is a Chartered Psychologist, executive coach, facilitator, author & speaker
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On Leadership, Soaring and Embracing the Power of Belief


A while back I was in Oshkosh, WI attending the 2012 AirVenture event, a week-long airshow and exposition of experimental aircraft, homebuilts, and generally everything aviation for the civilian aviation enthusiast.  

It’s quite a show that attracts aviation enthusiasts from all over the world.  In my previous post, we explored beliefs and how they impact our perspective.  Today, let’s continue that thread by looking at the idea of strong beliefs and how important they are for success. 

The Early Belief in Aviation

Aviation as we know it began with the Wright brothers – bicycle shop mechanics and inventors who believed they could fly.  They kept at it until they proved they could.  Another name heard often here at AirVenture is Dick Rutan, the former Air Force fighter pilot who in 1986 along with his co-pilot, Jeana Yeager, made the first ever non-stop, unfueled flight around the word.

And yes, their “Voyager”, was a one of a kind experimental aircraft designed by Dick, his brother Burt, and Jeana.

If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right

Here at Oshkosh, as I look at rows upon row of literally hundreds of beautiful flying machines constructed by the pilots who flew them to Oshkosh, I am impressed again with the power of belief and, of course, hard work.  They tend to be partners to success in life.

The saying, “If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right” may have been first coined by Abraham Lincoln, but it’s most often attributed to Henry Ford.  Regardless, it seems to bear much truth.

Witnessing Belief and Confidence

As an instructor pilot, I trained many students right out of college to fly supersonic jet aircraft.  Most made it through the course and a few washed out. The one common characteristic was the degree to which they believed they could succeed.  It takes a great deal of confidence to fly at 500 miles an hour with three feet of wingtip spacing on your leader.

Not only does it take a great deal of skill, but without confidence you will never be able to perform consistently.

I often told my students, “I can see you have the talent to do this and I’m confident that I can teach you.  But for it to work, you must picture it in your mind and you must believe that you can do it.”

And predictably, most of those who didn’t make it were those who just couldn’t believe they could do it.

So what about you (and me)?  What is it that we’re struggling with right now that we have the capability to do, but just aren’t sure if we have what it takes?  Quite often when we lack confidence we also lack passion; they seem to go together.  What’s motivating you to want to achieve a goal or make a change in your life?  Can you picture yourself succeeding?   Do you really believe down deep it can happen?  If the answer is “yes I can”, then you probably can. 

These are my thoughts, but the Leading with Honor community would love to hear from you.  Many of you can speak to this issue of believing (confidence) and we’d all benefit from hearing your thoughts.


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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

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On Leadership and The Crisis Moment of a Decision

Decision Making
Recently I became acquainted with a leader serving an interim position. 

“Interim” positions are always difficult, both for the organization as well as the person filling the temporary role.

Leading in the Moment

I have been an interim leader twice in my career, and so I fully appreciate the transient-feel of the role. By definition, the person must keep things going and serve as a leader in the moment, yet very few interim leaders I have known feel comfortable enough to make a l decision impacting long-term on the basis that the assignment is short-term.

I was the opposite:

While I was “interim,” I felt a strong responsibility to act decisively and make decisions that would impact short and long-term gains, but most “Interims” I have known do not feel this way.

A Wobbly Interim

My recent acquaintance is one such leader.  So far, 100% for 100%, when a decision has come up or just before a final deadline, I have been on the sidelines watching the Interim choke, hyperventilate, paralyze, and hold up progress while everyone looks in bewilderment for a reason for such a slow-down.

This person shares strong opinions openly, a range of criticisms (some that have improved certain areas exponentially), and strong views about nearly everything—even pop culture.  Technically he has most of what is needed for the role, and when he is focused on an area that area gets an enormous amount of valuable support.

All of this and yet I haven’t seen any real leadership-level decision come about, at least not without a painful journey by all who surround him.

We all know this type of person. And he is not the first I have encountered. So it got me thinking: “Why?”

What Drives a Decision?

I chuckle at the sound of “making a decision.”  I joke that it is really about “concluding a decision,” if that makes any sense at all.  There are so may things that go into the process of decision-making, and the study of this topic could keep anyone up for days.

Just Bing “The Anatomy of a Decision” and you will see what I mean.

Each resource always mentions the various steps to decision-making, from gathering information to assessing various outcomes, blah blah blah.

Case in Point

The one I like the most, though, is from Fordham Law Review (1984) where Judge Irving R. Kaufman takes on the decision-making topic in a most interesting fashion.

If you look at Judge Kaufman’s time as a Federal Judge for the United States, he was involved in some of the most interesting cases in the 20th century, from the Julius and Ethel Rosenberg case to his rejection of the government’s attempt to deport musician John Lennon.  Most of us will never know the pressure of making a decision at that level.

Most of us will never make decisions at that level, either.

And even more of us will never think too long about how we might make a decision or how much will go into it: we either make one, stall out, or reluctantly finally get around to it.

Easier Said Than Done – For Some

Sure, some would argue that a simply Myers Briggs will help us (face it, some are more comfortable with making decisions than others), but the truth is that decision-making is far more than just a matter of innate preference for closure or commitment, as Myers Briggs or any Jung-type assessment would suggest.

Judge Kaufman’s decisions, for example, had far-reaching implications—far more than the ones we are generally up against each day: whether an inexpensive training should take place, or if a meeting of senior leaders should include financial business analysis, or what to eat for lunch, for example.

Then how do you do it?

4 Ingredients in Making Decisions 

Of all the resources I have reviewed, and years in my own decision-making (and sometimes decision-deflecting) tenure, four items remain steadfast for decisions, good or bad.

I have marginalized these common items to a fault, but you will get the gist:

1) Facts

Good or bad, the starting point of a decision is what you know and the best decisions are based on hard cold unbiased facts and data points.  Period.

2) Interpretation

This is related to what you do with the facts after you review them, and it is largely based on who prepared the facts, who is telling you the facts, how you like the facts, and whether you believe in them.  This is also when confidence builds up or shuts down.  This is the crisis point of decision-making and usually when leaders (or anyone) realizes whether he or she is up for the task.

3) Guidelines or Governance

After the facts are interpreted, we often have guidelines or governance that will help us along the way… and sometimes not so much.  If we interpret that a project will be late based on all the facts, various project rules will require us to escalate immediately.  Black and white, yet not always done for a number of reasons.  This goes to the next item:

4) Courage

Defined in The Free Dictionary as “the state or quality of mind or spirit that enables one to face danger, fear, or vicissitudes with self-possession, confidence, and resolution; bravery.”  Yes, leadership always goes back to Courage, doesn’t it?  And when all is said and done, when it comes to decisions (particularly the difficult and ethically based ones), this is really the one that will galvanize what people remember the most.

So what are some of your thoughts of recent events around the globe?  How do leaders around the world make decisions?  What are the basis points for your decisions? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Christa Dhimo
Christa Dhimo is President & Founder, via Best Practices
She helps clients by aligning human capital performance with business results

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Leaders and Difficult Decisions: The Syrian Crisis Scenarios?


Hard choices come with the job of a leader. Imagine almost 1 million Americans dying in a modern American civil war over the last two years, comparatively speaking.

That is the ratio of people that have died in the current debacle in Syria—many of them innocents caught amid the violence.

It’s a tangible example of the difficult choices regarding how deeply America should be involved in this conflict.

Facing Tough Choices

The US President and American national leaders are facing a situation where there does not appear to be many good choices with conditions erupting now in Syria. We don’t want to help Assad and his terror-sponsoring regime, but the situation has deteriorated to the point where terrorists have taken over the fight for the opposing rebels in many areas.

“This dilemma of having to choose a best path when there doesn’t seem to be any good choices isn’t that unusual for leaders—or even people and families for that matter.”

The Syrian crisis is a good case study for building a model for making tough decisions.

I’ll initiate some thoughts and best practices, and then you the readers can critique and improve. Let’s see if we can actually come up with something that will help all of us, and who knows—maybe even be helpful to those who drink that funny water inside the DC beltway.

L2L Discussion Please Vote

Check Your Mindset

Mindsets drive behaviors which have either positive or negative outcomes, and mindsets are based on assumptions.

For example, facing tough decisions like this, I must assume that I don’t know everything that needs to go into the decision; so, I need the wisdom, knowledge, and experience of others who have relevant information and expertise on the subject.

Getting the full picture will help objectively evaluate the various courses of action. This step also assumes that the decision-maker is willing to listen to diverse opinions and withhold judgment until appropriate information has been gathered and all advisers have been heard.

Get Everyone to Put on the “Big Hat”

This means putting the needs/mission of the highest level of the organization first over individual parochial and political interests. I’ve heard the CEO of a Fortune 500 company lament that this was the biggest challenge with his management team of division presidents.

They had problems taking off their division hat for the sake of the greater mission. If it’s true in business, imagine how much more so in government cabinets and congressional political parties.

Complex, difficult decisions require a deft self-awareness of your personal motives and natural biases.

If you can objectively make the best difficult decision—even when it may not benefit you personally—that is a hallmark of true sacrificial and honorable leadership.

Establish Ground Rules for the Management Team

What is okay and what is not okay? How will we stay focused on the main thing? And, if I’m the senior leader, I make it clear that we need courage to speak up with dissent; there is no benefit from having “yes men/women” who won’t give their true opinion.

And again, clarify your assumptions. A team that can have passionate, courageous debate (or as Patrick Lencioni calls it—“creative conflict”) is almost always a better environment for good decision-making.

Identify Your Sources of Counsel

Start with your key managers and advisors. Decide if you need input from professional experts like a lawyer, CPA, engineer, or other specialist. Above all, get counsel from a diverse group and listen to them.

Clarify the Various Options 

Which choices will best serve your highest aim/goal—whether it’s an organization or the ideals of a particular country or culture? What are the most likely outcomes with each? What are the potential unintended consequences? Play each option out as best you can to see the end results.

Courageously Make a Decision

Since we said it’s a hard decision with not many good choices, it will take courage to decide and move ahead. Courage means making the right decision even when it doesn’t feel natural or safe. Overcoming fears to do what you know is right will enable you to courageously make a decision, and following the previous steps will help you make the best one.

Stay United and Execute the Decision

Make sure that you have a unified message and communicate it to the lowest level of the organization.  Everyone should understand the logic you used and remind the team of the principle of unity (we have done our best and we all own this decision). Anything less is disloyalty and undermines the success of the organization.

These are my ideas, so how do you see it? What has been your experience?  What worked and what didn’t? Please share your thoughts.

Article Reference – “Syrian Civil War: How Did We Get Here?


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Lee Ellis

Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

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Dear Leader: Do You Believe in Love?


The 21st Century belongs to the aware, focused, & loving leader.

Our workplace needs love. What we need is for the individuals who make up our organizations to step forward in love; eliminate judgment; embrace uniqueness; and, with care, create accountability while behaving with responsibility. Love defined for the leader is to lead others with confidence while leading others to their own confidence. −Wading the Stream of Awareness (Love Chapter)

It is impractical to consider providing encouragement to another if we do not hold the deep abundance of love inside; a self-love that appropriates the transformation into our brand of leadership love.

We want to build a story with you.

The collaboration in the telling of the story is animated as we love the flow, love the person, and love the story.

Aware: Love the Flow

It is imperative to learn to hold the tension in the middle stand that is your balanced awareness−where internal desire joins with external intent and finds you captured by the flow.

Narrowing in on my own brand of leadership love enriched my work and life as I became more consistently conscious of my voice of love. The intensity of my love strengthened my focus.

Love flows through your work only after doing its work in you.

Focused: Love the Person

Paul is an expert in Smart Design creating Positive Environments for freedom in living. He holds a particular passion for those battling the disease ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis). He is not merely a construction expert. He partners in the care of the client.

During Karen’s Smart Design project, he would take along material samples so she could actually feel the differences while he explained the details. Paul told me that providing functional space for an individual like Karen is as empowering for him as it is for the client. These experiences are fulfilling his own purpose as the physical spaces he designs give freedom to the individuals who occupy them.

Story lives in your moments, folds into your potential, and unfolds in your love.

Loving: Love the Story

Only those who are totally secure in their love can live thus fully the present moment. −Thomas H. Green, When the Well Runs Dry

It is good to confidently peer into the vision of tomorrow. Embracing the outline−the structure−of your story frees love in the present; the only location where we truly live with any significant degree of influence.

There is no influence without love.

To take those you lead, influence, and serve beyond mere expectations, you must love them.

Love moves one through fear and limitation.

It takes the working love of a confident leader to build the confidence of others.

What do you need to fortify your self-love? What will free you to love those you lead more authentically? How can you increase team performance by creative an atmosphere where love thrives? I would love to hear your thoughts!


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Jeff Brunson
Jeff Brunson is Owner of BasicApproach (Building Confident Leaders)
His passion is Building Confident Leaders
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On Leaders and Accountability (Part 2): Crucial to Life and Superbowl

Super Bowl 2013

We recently experienced Superbowl XLVII. 

Thirty-two teams started the season. Sixteen NFC and sixteen AFC with each conference having four divisions–North, South, East, and West–with four teams each.

The goal for the season was the same for all 32 teams—reach the Superbowl, but only two made it. The consequence of losses along the way knocked out the other 30 teams who were relegated to armchair quarterbacks. Whether we like it or not, consequences come into play in all areas of life, and that’s one reason that accountability is so important. 

Understanding Accountability

In a recent blog, I began a discussion on accountability. This issue is so crucial in today’s workplace (and society in general) that I want to continue in the same vein. And in the weeks and months ahead, I’ll share a series of blogs on this subject including:

Now, let’s get some clarity around the Why part.

Understanding Human Nature

The Individual Problem — Our DNA Requires Accountability

Without accountability, organizations and people typically get off track, miss their goals and begin to deteriorate. So, what’s the problem and why is accountability so difficult? I think it has a great deal to do with our human nature.

Both our bodies and our psyche are governed by the second law of thermodynamics. Regardless of how dedicated and disciplined we are, somewhere in our DNA is a natural bent to just get by; to put out the least effort needed; take the easy way out; and avoid pain and hardship as much as possible. Some call this lack of effort “mailing it in.”

“Regardless of how dedicated and disciplined we are, somewhere in our DNA is a natural bent to just get by; to put out the least effort needed; take the easy way out; and avoid pain and hardship as much as possible. Some call this lack of effort ‘mailing it in.’”

Understanding Technology

Ironically there’s a twist because this tendency to be lazy can serve us well by inspiring us to develop more efficient technologies and pursue process improvements. Fortunately, the marketplace provides the consequences that sort out effective and efficient innovations and kill those that don’t cut it. Accountability eventually has its day.

Individually though, without accountability we tend to sink to a lower level of human performance. The cold truth is that we’re naturally lazy and may not be willing to expend the effort required to engage life and work with excellence and reliability.

The problem becomes compounded by other strains in our DNA–selfishness and greed can push us to take short cuts to getting what we want. Pride can keep us from seeing ourselves as we really are, and fear can cause us to avoid engaging difficult issues that make us uncomfortable (like affirming others or alternatively holding them accountable).

Helping People

Accountability Helps the Individual 

Accountability takes into account some other positive aspects of our human nature that can positively improve our performance like -

  • our need to achieve
  • our desire for approval
  • our need for boundaries and consequences.

We all want to “count for something”–to make a difference. Properly applied, ac-“count”-ability actually helps us get where want to go in terms of achieving our goals and fulfilling our responsibilities. As leaders, we know that holding people accountable is essential for getting results and developing others. So we must approach every situation with a mindset of accountability and diligently develop and implement the skills to make it happen.

Helping Teams

Accountability is Essential for the Organization

There is an old management adage that “You can expect what you inspect” (also “You can’t expect what you don’t inspect”). In other words, a leader needs to know how progress is going and lead/manage as needed to keep things on track. Without meeting goals and achieving success, you can’t remain viable in business.

In the military, executing plans in a timely and effective manner can mean life and death, so accountability is taught as an essential part of military leadership. Keeping your word and doing your duty are requirements for serving as an honorable person and leader. But isn’t that true in any work setting or relationship?

“A leader needs to know how progress is going and lead/manage as needed to keep things on track. Without meeting goals and achieving success, you can’t remain viable in business…Keeping your word and doing your duty are requirements for serving as an honorable person and leader.”

Helping Ourselves

Look around at our culture. It’s clear that accountability would solve many of the problems that we see in government, business, education, nonprofits, and individually as well. We need a new mindset that will act like a digital billboard, flashing ACCOUNTABILITY in bold caps, grabbing our attention and reminding us that accountability is essential for progress.

Without it we usually don’t progress, but rather we tend to regress as we’re overtaken by that second law—laziness.

So where do you stand on this issue–is it personal or cultural? In what ways are you succeeding in holding yourself accountable? In what areas are you “mailing it in”? How hard is it for you to hold others accountable? Please share your thoughts and let’s get a conversation going. Your response may be that digital billboard flashing for someone else. We can help each other.

See Part 1On Leaders and Accountability: Notes From the Cliff


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Lee Ellis
Lee Ellis is Founder & President of Leadership Freedom LLC & FreedomStar Media.
He is a leadership consultant and expert in teambuilding, executive development & assessments
Email | LinkedIn | Web | Blog | Book | Facebook | Twitter

His latest book is called Leading with Honor: Leadership Lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.

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