Heart Led Leadership with Tommy Spaulding

Reading Time: 22 Minutes

Tommy Spaulding talks about what employees need to hear from employers during the pandemic, heart-led leadership, and servant leadership. He also discusses how to overcome barriers to effective company relationships and how to create an amazing company culture.

After the Interview

About Tommy Spaulding

Tommy is the bestselling author of The Heart-Led Leader and It’s Not Just Who You Know. He’s the owner of Spaulding Companies, where he provides leadership development, consulting, coaching, and public speaking. He’s also the CEO and President of nonprofit Spaulding Leadership Institute. The Institute produces cutting-edge leadership programs to shape children and teenagers into the next generation of leaders.

Read the Transcript

This transcript was auto-generated from the original video recording using Otter Voice Meeting Notes. While the transcript has not been human edited, we hope it will still help you to quickly find or reference useful information from the interview.


Hi, welcome back to Deliberate Leaders. I am Allison Dunn, executive business coach, your host and today we have the very famous Tommy Spaulding. Tommy is the best selling author of The Heart Led Leader. And just so you know, he is the owner of Spaulding Companies, where he provides leadership development, consulting, coaching and public speaking. And he is also the CEO and president of a nonprofit called Spaulding Leadership Institute that produces cutting edge leadership programs to shape children and teenagers who are the next generation of our leaders. I think that is so beautiful. Tommy, thank you so much for joining me today.


My honor to be on the show.




In my future and I say future in the sense of like, I hope it’s not that far away. To also run a program for children’s and teens. So just from cosmic I feel like that’s a big thing. Is that specifically that? Tell me about that? I’m super curious.


Yeah. So it’s our 25th running. We have two programs called the National Leadership Academy, and the Global Youth Leadership Academy. We work with high school kids from all over the world, in the Global Leadership Academy and all over the country in the National Academy. And it’s about bringing kids all together every summer in Denver, Colorado, for the National Academy. We have a couple hundred high school kids, and they’re black, they’re white, or Hispanic, they’re rich, or their public school, their private school kids, and every religion, every background, and I just believe that that’s what the world needs is to bring these kids together to teach them about servant leadership. Because I believe servant leadership is something that’s taught and it’s not being taught in the high schools. And so we’ve been doing this for 21 years, we’ve had over 10,000 high school kids do the National Academy in the Global Leadership Academy over the last 21 years.




That’s phenomenal. Thank you so much for that work. That’s incredible.


So you ever heard of felt leadership?


I would love for you to kind of describe what that means to you.


Yeah. Well, it’s about love and about servant leadership. And servant leadership has been around since the days of Jesus, right, the first leader, and I just kind of have a new spin on it called the heart of leadership, which means leading from your heart, and basically where that came from alleys that for 200 years are brainwashed that we had to bring our heads to work, and we leave our hearts at home. And our heads are where we were strategic and thinkers and analytical and often the smartest guy in the room was often the leader and we never really brought our heart of vulnerability and humility and transparency and love to the workplace. And I just totally disagree. I think that leaders that connect the head in the heart, that’s 18 inches, I call it the journey of 18 inches from your head to your heart. That you when you become a heart leader, that’s when you have incredible results in your organization.


I just want to make sure can you still hear me Tommy? Oh, yeah.


I was trying to my, my little announcements are going off. And I should have figured out how to pause though. So sorry about that. Um, I am a master coach for an organization. So as part of programs that I run, it’s called engaging grow. And a lot of our model is around, you know, the hurts and the, you know, the body, and then the mind, the body and the soul basically. And if you can tap into all three of those at work, how we have just this more highly, exponentially engaged team that we work with. So what would you say are the characteristics that People need to be aware of to be a heart led leader.


Sure. Well, I believe that there’s really 18 of them, actually hundreds of these qualities of heart led leader qualities, but I believe 18 of them are the most important that represents the 18 inches. But number one is humility. I think heart led leaders are humble. And humility is not thinking less of yourself. Humility is thinking less of yourself. Often, less and less often yourself and hard leaders can be compromised. It could be you know, tough, but they have to come from a humble genuine spirit. First, secondly, have to be able to put others before themselves. And that’s, that’s hard. You have to be vulnerable, real, authentic, genuine, sincere. These are the qualities that we often thought were kind of soft, Fufu qualities, but in today’s world, you’re not going to get a lifelong customer. You’re not going to get employees unless you’re really leading from the heart and people don’t see that you’re real and authentic and humble.




Is there a different servant leadership in heartfelt leadership to you?


Um yes and no.

Unknown Speaker  5:18 

No as in partly leadership is servant leadership. It’s but we’re I define heart led leadership is when you have results in mind when you have servant leadership. Let me explain Ollie. When I was trying too hard the leader I went to my publisher in a Penguin Random House and told me to write a book about servant leadership. I want to read and what do they say? autonomy. There’s thousands of books on servant leadership. There’s nothing new at the table. People were talking about servant leadership since the days of Jesus right would say this knew about it. And what I found out found there haven’t been a book actually written that connected. So servant leadership, love in the workplace with bottom line finding. Meaning if you actually have a culture of servant leadership, genuine in your organization, it’ll actually increase your bottom line. And so we worked, we worked for years and we research these organizations had unprecedented results, and not just financial results, results in prisons results in schools visit colleges and nonprofits and government and fortune 500 companies. But however you define results, these organizations found unprecedented results. It was all because they had a leadership model of servant leadership. So that’s what really hard and leadership is it’s marrying love and results together.


Yeah, I love that combination. And a question about I’m talking about heart and results at this given time, and I’ll just disclose today’s April 1, so April, Happy April Fool’s Day and we’re addicted. This pandemic, the Corona virus and things have changed, right? I think people are struggling a little bit about what to do with their heart and the results that they need to have their businesses be viable for a longer period of time. So the whole world has shifted and I know you know, I expect that this is not going to go away immediately, but it’s something we’re going to learn through significantly about how to tap into our heart and make sure that those are in in unison. What, what, what are you doing with your team from home or at home? And what would you recommend our other leaders across the world to do?


Yeah, well, first of all, hard leadership is hard. Even good times, and it’s hard even in tough times like this Coronavirus. I mean, just personally, me I’m struggling today because when the Coronavirus kind of hit a month ago, the first thing I told my staff is I love them. And I want you to stay on payroll and I’m gonna fight you know tooth and nail to keep you on the team and That was my intention because that’s where my heart was. But within the scale last 30 days, all my speaking all my travel coaching, all my leadership training, every iPad had 50 speaking, or no trips, canceled, I mean, everything I cancelled and all my revenue got changed. And today we had a furlough someone right. And that just broke my heart because sometimes heart led leaders have to make tough decisions that keep the organization afloat. So I answered your question, Allie is like heart led leadership is just about being transparent and real. And knowing that you have good times, we’re gonna have bad times. You could tell a lot about someone through the good times, but you can tell much more about someone through the tough times and the challenging times.


I think transparency definitely is a component that shows the emotion of where real right good.


Yeah. And who are the most inspiring servant leaders that you have studied?


Well, I’m gonna tell you a few of them. But you know, it’s interesting that question because I have a crazy answer. When I was writing the leader, the first thing I did was I wrote down, you know, maybe 50 to 100. You know, heart led leaders, servant leaders that I’ve met in my career, they were friends, they were neighbors, they were customers, they were clients, they were mentors. They were, you know, people I worked with, but I wrote down all these amazing servant leaders that really had genuine heartfelt love to serve others and were humble and, and I wrote their names down and I decided that choose 18 of them to really write about my book represent the 18 inches, 18 people, 18 traits, and call them all up on the phone. And Allie, none of them knew each other. But I call them up on the phone. Here’s what I said to Frank and wall and tea. And Jimmy and all these people I wrote about in the book and rod and Jody and Michael, my amazing people. I call them all up and I said listen and write this book on servant leadership, heart led leadership, and I’m only choosing 18 of the hundreds of the I know, the thousands that I’ve know and and here’s why you’re the most genuine, humble real. And you’ve had unbelievable, you know, unprecedented results in organizations and I want to write about you and in my book, you know what they all said, Everyone, it was like they all had a conference call. And I plan to say the same thing. They said the same thing. You know what they all said, but guess why me? It’s exactly what they said, Yeah. Why me? But they said, You got the wrong gal. You got the wrong guy. I’m not a soft lock guard leader. I’m on the journey. And I’m not even there yet. And these people are absolutely the real deal like unbelieve. I’ve been studying leadership, writing books, apartment leadership for 20 years. And this is, these are my mentors and they all poopoo the idea that they were and what I learned from that Alli is that you never really become a heart lead. And as soon as you become one, and you say I’m a heart led leader, you’re probably not. And partly leadership is never a destination. It’s a journey every day waking up, how can I put my wife, my husband, my kids, my neighbors, my employees, my customers, how can I put them first? Because the reality is, and this is gonna probably piss off a lot here viewership. But 90% of the world are not heart led leaders 90% workforce 90% of the leaders, teachers, lawyers, doctors, principals, whatever job you have 90% of them aren’t, they’re self serving. It’s not that they’re mean or bad people but most human beings on this planet think about themselves first, that’s a normal thing. From the second we come out of the baby’s mother’s womb. We want food, we want to cry, we want attention until they’re six year olds and six years old and running a high school or running a fortune 500 company or running a law firm. They are self serving, so to become a servant leader. It’s all about the title of your podcast. It’s a deliberate it’s it’s a, it’s a decision you make that used to be probably intentional that I want to live a life of putting others first. And it’s really hard to do.


You, you made the combination of the results come from. I’m sorry, love and results are two sides of the same coin I think is the way I’ve heard it before. What are some specific actions that leaders can take to show love to their employees?


Yeah, well, the love is two sides of results are two sides the same coin with that means it’s an or it’s not you either have a culture of love, or you have a culture of results. Your cutthroat bottom line results oriented or you have this touchy feely heartfelt genuine loving servant leadership. You’re not an Android you have both are two sides of the same coin. And to answer your question, the first thing you can do as a leader is to is to tell your story to your people. I mean, I’m completely dyslexic. I struggled academically in high school at USC with a 2.0 graduate college. I wanted to become a lawyer. I applied to 37 law schools, I got 37 rejections. I mean, I have a story of all the things I had to overcome, become a New York Times bestselling author. And so for years, Alli, I was ashamed to tell people my story that I couldn’t read, that I was dyslexic that I really struggled academically. People always ask me why did you start this national academy? Why did you start these leadership programs right to write these books for businesses, like why did you do it initially, is because I wanted to help serve people that weren’t straight A students right. But I was afraid to tell that story. But I wrote my first book 10 years ago, it’s not just so you know, I shared in the book that I was dyslexic, and I struggled academically, and I was in the resource room and high school and all that. And that’s when people saw me as real. And so leaders have to know that vulnerability is a sign of strength, because it makes people see that you’re human and real. And leaders don’t need to have all the answers. And when you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say, I don’t know the answer. And I’m afraid and I need you to help me make the right decision. I need this team to help me and the team is going to be more loyal to you because you’re asking for help. But you don’t know the answer’s no, you’re not dictating all the answers. And you come from a more transparent humble heart than more of a self serving no dictator.


I think that drives home a good point, because I think if we, we move forward with our people kind of don’t have all the answers that also allows them to kind of also say like, I’m not sure what to do, and I need help and I need people to come around me to do that. And how so how so by sharing our story and showing that we don’t know it all right? Do you think that’s what’s needed to also encourage our team to also lean forward and ask for help and seek guidance when they’re feeling that way too, because we show?


Yeah. Well, it’s all it’s all trickle down, for example, vulnerability is contagious. So if I’m the leader of a bank, and I’m the CEO of a bank, and I want my employees to be vulnerable and real and authentic to their teammates and their customers, I have to start as the CEO of the bank, the model vulnerability, but I think great, you know, service oriented organizations like banks or financial services or something, they have relationships with their clients, their clients of trusting them to give their money or make investments or, or you know, choose them as a bank, and someone’s not going to give you their business until you until you know their story. So I always try to coach people don’t try to win people’s business win their hearts, in the way you’re going to win their hearts is to know their story. And the only way to know their story, your customers story is to share yours. That’s why vulnerability is so important and part of building a culture of heart of leadership because I think about my lifelong clients, my lifelong customers, I know their story. I know what’s going on their marriages, their kids, their dreams, their weaknesses, their strengths, and they know mine. And that’s when you have a real lifelong, what I call fifth floor relationship. When it’s really etched in in each other’s story, not just the small talk of life is perfect. Marriage is perfect. My job is perfect. A company’s perfect, everything’s perfect my life. I call that bullshit. Everyone has a life. That’s our job.


One of the things that I came into this interview thinking was you know, there’s a lot of focus on leaders or successful businesses, maybe I’ll just say successful businesses out there, that a spouse in focus on, you know, exceptional customer service or loving the customer and don’t treat their internal customer that are, you know, serving the customer that they are supposed to focus on. So how do how does an organization become less transactional and be more relational if they want to be?


Yeah, well, just like most of the world are not heart led leaders and kidneys are good leaders are real tough choice. And to be a leader is a tough choice and to become one. It’s the same thing about being in having an organization that that’s not transactional. I don’t care how you say whether in the speak coaching business, the banking, business, the wall, business or any job you have most companies in America transactional. And that’s what really inspired me to write the first book. It’s not just you know, it’s it shouldn’t be transactional, it should be transformational. It should be relationship driven. And organizations that truly put relationships first. They’re the ones that are successful long term. And that just takes time. And it’s not just lip service. You can’t just say, all my customers are always first and my employees always first and then every decision you make is all about, you know, personal finance, financial game. Sometimes you have to make decisions, what’s really truly best for your people. There’s so many examples that give on harbor leaders that make these decisions. But to build a culture of relationships is is what I call RR. And that’s building a culture of return on relationships, where most companies they’re focused on what are they that’s what I’m paid for the board the investors, my boss, they want the ROI. The return on investment. We’re brainwashed for that. And I actually think that’s completely wrong. ROI is not the most important thing in business, it’s actually the second most important thing. The most important thing is ROI or, which is return on relationships. If you can build authentic, genuine, heartfelt, real, non transactional relationships with your constituencies, you’re going to build a culture of ROI or an ROI is the only thing that truly can drive ROI off the charts. Absolutely agree. Dar it’s not all I’m gonna have a relationship business and then not have profits. No, if you build a genuine and I stress the word genuine because you can’t fake this. But if you get genuine, non transactional real relationship with your with your constituency, you’ll have more profits than you then you know what to do with.


What do you think the barriers are that leaders face in if they even come?


So I guess it starts from filming I’m almost answering my own question. What do you say with me I’m not answering. What do you think the barriers are for an organization that may have been ROI based and really wants to shift to an R when they’re under new leadership?




Well, one I think one time I got this story about it was actually a pastor’s wife that both the store in her book, a mess up the person’s name, so I won’t even say it but she actually wrote the story in the book that says that, that that she found that someone in her parish was really struggling. And she went over that person’s home to do like a needs assessment, maybe what kind of they need and the pastor’s wife with good intentions went over this woman’s house poor woman, single mom, and she just notices that the that the grass is really high, like Lily pastored her hip and she needed to get a took a note that she could get some lawn service down in there that the house just kind of painted the chip was the house paint was chipping. So she kind of talked about some maintenance on the house and she walked And she can tell that it needs a cleaning lady or cleaning man to clean the house because it was a mess and went in the kitchen and looked in the cupboards. And there was no you know, food storage food in the refrigerator, no milk and eggs and protein. And she just kind of spent some time with this lady and took her notes of all the things that this woman needed. And then she got back in her car, this pastor’s wife and wrote this whole list of all the things that this woman needed to do. And then the, the chapter was so powerful, because at the end, she says, and after I made this whole list, you know what I did? And the readers Like what? And she says, nothing.I did nothing. And then chapter ended and I was like next chapter because you know, that’s what happens with our hearts is that we have the intentions of hiring the prison, paid the house and cleaning the house and get food and get protein and do all this list. But what happened is I got home and I had my own drama, my marriage Kids in my own life ammonia, we get back to our lives. we’re so busy. We don’t have the time to execute things that are in our heart. That’s why I did nothing. And that chapter really hit me because that’s leadership. Often we have in our hearts, we want to spend more time with our employees. We want to know their story, want to walk the halls, we want to call our customers near how they’re doing. We want to do you know, client calls, but then we have crisis’s. We have things going on. We have drama. We have all this stuff going on life and it takes us away from doing that. And so they answer your question Alli. That’s what really prevents a culture for becoming a culture of ROI. So you have to commit the time in my drawer, roll of stamps. You know where I’m going with this. There’s a whole chapter in my book about it. I literally write 50 handwritten notes a week. I got my, my envelopes right here, a week. And I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I never, ever met Ever. And everyone that knows Tommy Spaulding knows they get a handwritten letter, because I believe that’s better than a text message. And now, and a tweet or whatever these things are called the old fashioned handwritten note. And it can be just a couple sentences. Hey, call today, thank you so much for the time today or anything I’m thinking about you today. Like just little things, you when I go to the mail, I just cherish the handwritten letters. They don’t exist anymore. It’s the little things that we have to do that take time. But lets people know we truly care.


That’s beautiful. I am impressed on your commitment to that. And if I were to think about that I’ve savored in like I keep as as important mementos, to me is anything handwritten. Yeah, the rest of it. It typically gets recycled right into the truck. But I’ve got lots of thank you’s.


Oh, that’s awesome. Yeah, you collect them like gold like that that better worth tons of money, you know? Yeah. When I turned 50 years old, my wife was amazing, Jill, you know, I wanted a Porsche. That’s what I that’s what I wanted at Porsche. Instead, she got me something much more meaningful. It wasn’t meaningful. The time I really wanted the 911 when she got me was she, she reached out to 50 of people that love me all over the world. From my middle school, high school teachers to my first boss out of college, to our neighbors and friends 50 people around the world that truly loved me. And she got all 50 people to write handwritten letters, but why they love me. And then my birthday was August 31. Sometime in I guess it was July or whatever was or June. I’m laying in bed, and I’m sleeping and my wife starts dancing the Beatles music, it’s your birthday, and she has Happy Birthday balloons. And like Jill, I don’t know what you’re smoking by my birthday is in August and it’s like, months away. Because no today is 50 days before your 50th birthday. And she goes, and I’m gonna give you your first letter, and she gives a letter from my mom. And I love my mom. My mom’s 100% Italian. She was a great mother. She sold all my merit badges. She cooked me all my meals. She was the perfect mom in those ways. But her to really tell me why she loves me. I never really heard from her before. She’s tough. And the letter that I received my mother is probably the most better than not 11 push to hear those words, my mom and I got 50 letters like that for next 50 days that people that that that loved me. And that was my wife doing something totally special, my 50th birthday. And what if we did something like that for our clients and our customers? Maybe we can’t do that’s something that in But those have to do with our relationships. It’s not about the 911. It’s about the time we take to do things that matter. I’m my best friend in high school Corey went through a divorce the bad doors, and I promised myself I’m going to call him every day for a year through his divorce. If you called Cory is five years later, that my best friend Michael Thomas balding, a guy called me every day, when I was going through my divorce, my friend race in Iowa went through cancer and every Monday, she drove two hours, two and a half hours to Des Moines to get chemotherapy. I knew from nine to 11 she was in that car driving and every Monday, for the eight weeks she was having chemo. I called her on her way. It’s those things that we do to commit like your, your, your, your, your podcast title. You’re deliberate, that we’re intentional. That’s the true Mark makings of a heart led leader.


That’s a great. You’ve got me teared up too. I’m sure that you have like a ton of good answers on this but off the top of your head. What company do you think is doing culture best today?


Huh? Well, I can name companies but really like to name companies I can name I mean leaders like Bill Grable with global brand lines or, or my buddy Jackson McConnell that runs a bank in in the middle of nowhere Georgia like the outskirts of Georgia. I mean, it’s a leader. My friend Jane Lottie Oh, that’s running a vision of US Bank, my friend, Amy Young that’s running a division of Visa, and I couldn’t run, you know, a Bob Hotman that’s running a division of this accounting company, I mean, or frankly, Angeles that was running a high school. I mean, I could name these institutions but what I’ve realized Alli It’s not the institution that really is the heart led leader. It’s the leaders within it, that are really driving that culture of heart led leadership.


You kind of lead right into my next question. So what, what is typical of a total turnaround story, because heart led leader stepped into leadership?


Well, I have two of them in the book, the heart led leader I that’s all I’ve written about. But one of my favorites has to be probably Angola State Prison in Louisiana and Golden State Penitentiary in Louisiana. I mean, I didn’t really know much about state penitentiaries but their state prisons and there’s federal prisons, and Angola is the bloodiest most dangerous federal prison in Louisiana in the country. And 15 years ago, it was actually ranked the bloodiest most dangerous prison in the country, more rapes, more capital crimes, more murders. There was 6800 inmates. And Angola had the highest life without parole. These were the hardened criminals. Usually, other states have parole systems where they’d mentioned let some of these prisoners out but Angola didn’t they held on to these prisoners because they were the hardened criminals. And when I heard this story, years ago, when I was writing my book, or that leader, I heard the story about to share with you and I didn’t believe it. So I flew down there and met with Burl Kane, the new Warden, and I saw firsthand how this Warden came in 15 years took this prison from the bloodiest most dangerous prison with 6800 inmates and turns into one of the safest prisons in the country. If you Google Angola State Penitentiary, you’ll read the story about how the one man brought heart led servant leadership to this prison system. Same prisoners, I mean, some died. None of them got out in 15 years took the bloodiest most dangerous prison into one of the safest prisons. And my argument is if you can change a prison system around, you can change your sales team. You can change the culture of your dentist office or whatever your high school or whatever organization that you’re running. Organizations change not because organizations change. Organizations change because leaders change. And they bring heart led leaders to the table from the top to the bottom. And it’s not just CEOs doing it. You could have managed a team of three people, if you can change those three people. You’re changing the organization.


Thank you for that. That’s a great story. I am going to look it up afterwards because I think that’s powerful and think of the most difficult of situations right and that type of transformation can happen. As an executive coach, you know, I work with a lot of companies, you know, and fine tuning their vision and their mission and their culture and their values. One of the things that I feel like you would have a great structure and to suggest is how do you develop a leadership philosophy? for someone to really be able to harness their own words, their own authentic philosophy around how they want to lead?


Well, that’s the script right out of my book, the Heart Led Leader, I talked about this. That’s the problem. The problem is everyone in this country and in the world have a religious philosophy. Yeah. Like that’s my philosophy. You might be Jewish, or Christian, or Muslim or a Buddhist or an atheist or, you know, a Muslim. You have a religious philosophy you choose to shape your heart, but your religious philosophy is correct. You have a contrary Where we have a political philosophy, you might be republican or democrat or libertarian, conservative, a liberal, socially moderate. I mean, you have these political philosophies that shaped your heart. We live in this great country. You get to pray, how we believe you get to have our political philosophies how we believe. Yet we go to work every day, from eight until 650 hours a week, and yet we don’t have a leadership philosophy. I mean, when I asked the world, what’s your leadership philosophy? No one raises their hand. I got one. You mean you got a religious philosophy? You go to church every Sunday, you got a political philosophy, you know it, you know what party you belong to, but yet you don’t have a leadership philosophy. That’s the one thing you do every day at work is your lead. What’s your philosophy? And I have I know the answer. It’s heart led leadership. That’s the philosophy. And if, if you want to be a heart led leader, the first thing you have to do is commit to becoming one because you never actually become one, because it’s a journey, but you have to jump on the 18 inch journey to get there. Got to connect the head in the heart. And you got to start tomorrow, the next day, next week, inch by inch leading people and letting people see your heart and being a hard lead leader. And that’s the philosophy that you have to take to work every day.


Well, one of the things that I would like to as we wrap up, I’d like to challenge all of my listeners as they’re going through this to consider being really clear and developing a deliberate leadership philosophy, of themselves. If that’s the question that I would like to ask them to take away from today, I think that would be critical. And every business would be better for it. So Tommy, I can’t thank you enough. I have to admit, I think this is the first time I’ve teared up on interviews. And that just goes to show that you’ve touched my heart today and I’m sure you’ve touched the heart of our listeners. So what is the best way for people to connect with you or follow you online. How would you want people to connect with you?

Speaker  34:02 

Yeah, it’s Tommyspalding.com And there you can find information about my books and my nonprofit youth programs for high school kids and my retreats for corporate executives and all the kind of work that I do try to try to bring heart led leadership to the world.


Awesome. And I guess my final question for you is, is there anything should the Spalding Institute in the academies that you’re running as a nonprofit? Is there any specific way if people wanted to give to that, how could that happen?


If you know a high school student that wants to attend our national academy or support a scholarship so an inner city kid can go to the nationalleadershipacademy.org


Okay, thanks.

I'm Allison Dunn,

Your Business Executive Coach

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