Creating great leaders takes more than just seminars and trainings. It’s about knowing people’s capabilities in dealing with their emotions. Ben Gioia, the creator of the Influence With A Heart™ Method, says people become better leaders and better communicators by focusing on a few simple things like empathy and human connection. Ben dives deeper into the concept of influencing through the heart as he emphasizes the importance of using empathy to understand people in the workplace and acknowledging them as human beings. Believing how maintaining humanity and accomplishing desired outcomes as challenges that require change, he introduces the ideology of changing competition into cooperation.
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Influence With A Heart: Leading Through Empathy And Human Connection with Ben Gioia
I have with me, Ben Gioia. Ben is the President and Founder of the InfluenceWithAHeart.com. His teachings on empathy, story and innovative thinking are used by more than 30,000 entrepreneurs, employees and leaders worldwide. Ben launched one of the world’s biggest magazines, improved quality of life for people with ALS, for example, Stephen Hawkings, and created a mindfulness and empathy video game for a global organization and collaboration with MIT. Ben, there are many other things that we’re going to talk about you, but I just wanted to get you on. Welcome to the show. I’m so glad for you to be here.
Thank you so much, Rodney. It’s an honor and a pleasure to share the stage with you.
I’m glad you’re here. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule. We’re all busy and sometimes it’s difficult to stop and do interviews like this. I just wanted to thank you for stopping by and sharing it with the audience.
You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure and it gives me the opportunity to speak, which is something that I love to do.
Tell us about some of the things that you’re doing right now like the Influence With A Heart. What is that all about?
It’s about helping people become better leaders and better communicators by focusing on a few simple things like empathy. It’s the ability to stand in somebody’s shoes and to see the world through their eyes and to feel what they’re feeling, even if you haven’t had the same direct experience of somebody. When my mom was still alive, I don’t have the experience of my mom passing away, but I can connect to another human being with the understanding that we both share grief and loss when things like that happen. If I can bring that into the workplace, into the people that I serve and for the people that I’m training, it makes for a much more powerful human connection. It opens the door for transformation to happen. It makes it a lot more fun because it will remind us that we’re all on the same page with each other.
You bring that level of expertise in the workplace. Why do you feel that’s important?
First and foremost, thinking a lot of workplaces from what has come through with the Western culture around progress, numbers, the bottom line and profit among everything else, we’ve lost the human aspect. We’re putting so many indexes of numbers around performance and we’re forgetting that the people who are doing the performance are humans who have emotions and feelings and ups and downs in the whole megillah. We’re going to make business better for ourselves and for the people that we serve when we’re more connected to each other as human beings. That’s the foundational reason. The more tactical reason is that if you have a speaking business, you’re looking to speak to the right organizations and get on the right stages, one of the most important things for you to do is to use empathy to understand the people who stayed as you want to get on. What are their challenges? What are their fears? What are their goals?
It’s not just what you think they are, but what they’re saying to you. First of all, you’re getting it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Secondly, they’re giving you the language that you can use to turn around and say, “If you want somebody who can teach resilience to your audience, I can teach resilience to your audience.” They literally told you that. When they hear that back to them, they go, “He gets what we’re about.” It’s almost over simplistic when you think about it. At the same time, when we hear the words that we’re saying or hear the thoughts that we’re thinking coming out of another person’s mouth, we think that they have the solution or they can help us get to that solution in the first place.
This is a very interesting topic because in the workplace, it is about the bottom line and it is about performance. I feel that it is an issue, how we look at individuals. We look at them as almost like machines. We look at them like, “This one can perform at this level and this one can perform at that level.” It’s all about skill set. Very little is about the human aspect of it. How do we bring that back into the workspace? That’s a major challenge. It has to start at a very high level and not at the working level and more at the management level. I’m interested to hear your thoughts on that.
You’re spot on with what you’re saying and I agree with you. I have a few different thoughts about that. It definitely has to start from the top of any organization, big, small and anything in between. If the leadership isn’t walking the walk, talking the talk and setting the example, it’s not going to work its way through the rest of the organization. That’s a fact. It’s like you go to a wedding and there’s that stack of champagne glasses and they pour the champagne from the top. You can’t pour it from the bottom. It doesn’t work or it takes a long time. The leadership needs to be on board with humanizing their workplaces very much. Fortunately, this is happening more and more because people are getting that when you’re taking care of your people, acknowledging their humanness and not just their ability to deliver a data-driven outcome, that their performance is better, their engagement is higher, the retention is better and there are less sick days. All of that stuff comes into play. Acknowledging people as human beings and then also understanding that we’re not just on this earth to work. We all want to succeed in our businesses.
We want our companies to succeed, but if we’re just looking at a singular bottom line of money, that’s why there are a lot of problems on the earth right now. That’s why there are a lot of environmental issues. That’s why there are a lot of mental issues and employment issues and all that stuff. If we bring it back to the things of the bottom line coupled with what we are doing to the environment through our work and how we are impacting not only the organization, not only the people we serve but everybody else who is touched by our business, that’s when we come into a generative space of creation. We’re looking at so much more of the big picture. In the big picture, we’re all connected to each other and there’s no way to pull us out from each other. For good and for bad, we’re stuck with each other. We have to have the beautiful opportunity to operate from that place of community connection collaboration. Not only is that better for the world, but that makes business more successful.
It challenges the definition of success. As a leader myself, going through leadership development training and different courses and things like that, you’re always focused on that. It’s very rare that you focused on how to treat people and humanizing the workplace. That’s a topic all in of itself, maybe even a course or curriculum on how to do that. Success is defined by the bottom line, productivity, outcomes, results. If you’re not meeting those, regardless if you have high morale, regardless if your people are feeling good about themselves or on growing as individuals in your organization, if you’re not meeting those outcomes, then it’s like, “We’re not successful.” On the contrary, you could be meeting those outcomes and your people feel like crap. They hate coming to work every day. There’s no growth. It’s just more of an assembly line type of mentality in the organization. If you meet those outcomes, then we have success. It’s deep in the conversation.
I think about students and kids in schools. I don’t think they’re looked at as humans either. There’s a humanization that needs to happen in that area as well because I feel that it’s more like, “Here’s the curriculum. I’m going to push it. This is what you have to do. You don’t know any better, but if you do this, you can graduate and potentially you could succeed. There’s no guarantee, but this is what you’re going to have to do for eighteen years.” It doesn’t take into account the desires, the goals, the dreams, the aspirations, the passions, which all make a human being. There’s none of that in the school system. This topic that you are talking about needs more exposure. We need to figure out how do we insert this way of being into not only corporations but educational institutions and maybe many other areas. What are your thoughts on that?
That’s a complex one that you’re bringing to the table here. I completely agree with you that it needs to come into companies and it needs to come into schools more and more. I think of my own education. I was learning a lot of interesting stuff and some of it was applicable, but I never learned the basic budgeting and how to do things that I needed to live my life. I struggled around that, especially as I left the corporate world and became an entrepreneur. I didn’t know a lot of the business stuff. It was just a whole new world for me. I took the opportunity to learn, but it was a struggle. It took a long time and there are a lot of things that would have been smoother and easier had I learned them a little sooner.We're putting so many indexes around performance that we're forgetting that the people who are doing those are humans who have emotions. Click To Tweet
As I say all of that, I want to also bring the perspective that people are always doing what they think is the best they can. The schools that are still doing an older style curriculum, they think that this is the best way to do stuff, but that thinking has been around for decades, if not centuries, in certain kinds of ways. It’s important to remember that a lot of times people aren’t trying to do the wrong thing or aren’t trying to do the thing that doesn’t serve the organization or serve the kids, but there’s a lot of this habituated thinking. There’s a lot of this is the way things are. People don’t often realize that we can start changing this. Sometimes changing this looks like a daunting task. How do we change an entire curriculum?
That leads me to one of the areas that you teach on and you’re an expert at, which is the innovative thinking. That’s where the rubber meets the road in terms of change. I’ve got it and it may have worked for the last hundred years and maybe it’s working to some degree now, but is it the best value? Are we getting the most out of it? We bring in the topic of humanization. That’s new. We have our people talking about that a whole lot and we feel that it should be something that goes without saying.
We’re humans. We should, by default, naturally know how to treat other human beings because we are humans. Sometimes things get in the way like profit margins, outcomes and results. We have that mentality that exists like, “My desire is so strong for this outcome, my need is so strong for whatever that I sacrifice and compensate some of my humanness and the way I treat other people.” This is where innovative thinking comes in. How can we accomplish both things, maintain humanization as well as accomplish the outcomes that we want? That is a challenge that perhaps requires change.
It definitely is. The answer I give, because you’re asking great questions and bringing complex situations to light, I recognize that none of what I’m going to offer as an answer is the answer. It’s part of the answer from my experience, from my clients, from organizations that I’ve been a part of or worked with. One of the big things that I see is helping individuals and organizations connect to a common sense of purpose. We have a bottom line. We’re trying to be profitable. We’re trying to succeed, but why? What’s the benefit of all of this work we’re doing? Why does it matter in the world? Is this something we truly care about and not only is it something that we, on the leadership level, care about? How do we get everybody else in the organization on board with caring about it too and not saying, “You have to care about this because it’s in the employee manual?” How do we help people understand that or get them invested in it from a place in their heart? I take it at a deeper level. We very often hear about organizations getting lined up around values. What are the values system or what are the values that we espouse in an organization? Values are important and they’re a good start.
I love Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and a few other books. He talked about coming from a place of principles rather than values. He says that values are things that change over time, culturally, circumstantially, politically and all that kind of stuff. Back in the day, a woman’s place is in the home. That was the value in our society, but what he was saying is to take it up to the level of principles the things that don’t change and things like Martin Luther King were bringing across that all people are created equal. The constitution was based on all men are created equal. I’m going to come back to the word people because principles are things that aren’t dependent on time or circumstance. They’re going to be good for everybody no matter when you drop them into human history. All people are created equal. Start with that and as part of your organizational principle. Look at how that can trickle down or weave throughout. That opens the door to some cool stuff.
If you don’t mind, I want to challenge that a little bit, deepen this conversation and we all can benefit from it. I agree to an extent because the principles, although they could be good drivers, it all depends on what those principles are based on. You picked a very good one from Martin Luther King, but unfortunately, not all people have the same principles. It depends on what I based on. To go back to values, that value of women should be at home, that was a societal value. Not necessarily everyone bought into that. The women didn’t buy into that. Maybe they did at one point in time and that value still exists now to some extent. It’s just not as prevalent as it used to be.
Values, however, are a lot stronger than principles. They’re deeper. A principle is more like a rule and we know the same way rules. Rules are meant to be broken. Not everyone will stick to the principles, but values draft behavior, in my opinion. They’re the foundation of culture, which a lot of times it’s what’s driving the organization. Unfortunately, most organization’s culture is developed by default and therefore they go with it and it’s never challenged. I feel that when you start challenging existing values of the organization, that’s where the alignment comes in. When we can have values within the organizations that are communicated, then we can have people in the organizations with that same value. They’re not in any other alignment and then we can create a culture that’s conducive to the success that we’re after. That circumvents your thought, but I’m just offering up my opinion on that and I would like to discuss that.
Certain people that I’ve spoken to have said that or something similar and it’s a great point. Some of it comes from having a common definition of what principles are and a common definition of what values are. A lot of times, all of us human beings, we’re operating from our own universe if you think about it. I say the word chair to you and you get this image. I say the word chair to me, I get this image. They’re both chairs, but they could be completely different from each other and then you take that into more esoteric intangible terms. I say the word leadership, what does that mean to me? What does that mean to you? We could be very far off. We have probably some core common understanding especially because we’re very much coming from the same place. I get that. You can see where this can get a little thorny. Whether it’s principles or values or both, there’s an agreement within the organization of not only what these principles or values are, but our definition of what value is and what a principle is and how we’re going to use it. We want to get everybody aligned on the same page.
Secondly, for me, I’m less concerned about the words, principles or values, but more the concepts of what’s the thing that’s not going to get shifted around. What’s the core stuff that’s not going to get shifted around based on culture, based on people’s opinions, and based on the shift in the marketplace? How do we come back to the core things that are good for everybody all the time such as all people are created equal? Whether you think of that in terms of value or principle, to me, it’s little less important than what are these timeless, eternal things that are good for all people all the time. That can be the basis for behavior discussion, interaction, foundation for business and our ability to make the world a better place.
The mismatch here with all of that is the expectation. When you’re in an organization, a corporation, a group of people, everyone has different expectations. You said it perfectly. We have to come to an agreement. We’re probably getting to the crux of the conversation now because that’s what it comes down to. It’s those agreements. We put those agreements together and then everyone has expectations based on those agreements. When those expectations aren’t met, that’s when we have to break down. Unfortunately, those expectations are clearly communicated in the agreement. There lasts the behavior issues or the lack of meeting the expectation or the lack of the fulfillment of the agreement. Maybe this comes down to communication and communicating what my expectation is in terms of how I’m treated, how I feel on the job or within the group, getting that recognition and acknowledgment.Switching from competition to cooperation benefits more people. Click To Tweet
I don’t want to say I’m entitled to that, but as a human being, I can’t help but have some level of expectational feeling because that’s what makes me human. Whether or not we can make an agreement based on those things, what my needs are, what your needs are, we understand what the boundaries are and then perhaps we can play together. This is a broad topic and I feel that we’re not going to solve it now. We bring up some good points with how we treat people in the workplace and how we treat people as individuals. I do feel that in a lot of ways, we lost our ways and weigh outcomes and profits more heavily than we weigh just being a decent human being to someone.
There’s a lot of that. There’s this French philosopher, René Descartes. He’s one of the people who separated science from humanity and said that all of the tangible and measurable things are the things that are important. All the human things like the emotions, the empathy of the heart, the moods, the sensations, the feelings, the thought and all of those things are unreliable and less important. That caught on and I think we’re still suffering from that. That gives us a good opportunity now to unlearn or to continue unlearning a lot of these things that we’ve learned as we’ve grown up because they’ve come through society, religion, school, our parents and TV.
Not to vilify anybody and not to make anybody wrong, but I think it’s important to look at what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it and take a step back and go, “Does this make sense? Is this good for me? Is this good for this organization? Is this good for the world? Is this good for my spouse? Is this good for my kids?” A lot of times, we just do stuff because that’s the way our mom did it or our parents did it. They’re wise and they love us. They wanted the best for us and they taught us what they knew. The teachers at school taught us what they thought was the best. Is that the best? It’s a question. What do we need to let go of with love and respect because these things served people for some amount of time and they’ve run their course? Let’s let them go now so we can bring in something better for ourselves and for the people around us.
Are you a sports fan?
I’m watching basketball, but if you ask me any kind of factoid or to name a player, I almost couldn’t do that.
No, I’m not going to do that. I just want to prove a point here. Most sports, there’s a champion and that champion was crowned the best. That was last year and the year before it probably was a different champion that was the best in whatever sport. You have some that repeat from time to time, but more than likely, the best isn’t the best consistently, the best changes. The best is the best only for that particular time and then it may not be the best anymore. We see it in sports and we see it in business. Very rarely is the best always the best. They’re classified as the best for a period of time. You’re the best for that period of time and then there becomes another time where maybe you’re not the best.
With these philosophies, ways of being, ways of doing things, ways of thinking, it requires consistent and unwavering change. How can we, as a people, as an organization say that this is the best because it’s been the best for the last hundred years? That’s a little bit of laziness. We don’t want to challenge what’s been working to see if we can improve it because it may not be the best. Just to settle for that is easy. It doesn’t require a lot of work. It doesn’t require any work. You keep doing the same thing. The question is, is that serving you if you’re not innovating? I was at a seminar and it was a Bob Proctor seminar. He said, “If you’re still doing business the way we did business, then you’re going out of business. You’re going the wrong way.” Even though it may have been working a few years ago, there are new things that have come about.
There are new ways of thinking. Technology changes so fast and there are always new and improved ways of doing business and we’re learning. We’re still evolving and learning even at a more accelerated rate than we’ve done in the past. It requires the ability to learn and unlearn and then relearn more quickly that we’ve had to do in the past, but that requires effort. That requires work. The generation that’s coming in behind us are more adept and prepared to do that level of changing gears or adjusting than some of us older generations and that pokes the challenge. I want to go back to the schools because that’s one of the biggest areas where we see a lack of alignment in my opinion.
I agree with you that we’re evolving super fast and being forced to evolve to keep up with the changes that are happening. In a lot of situations, the changes technologically are outpacing a lot of people’s ability to adapt to them. It’s like, “We can do this new thing. That’s great. Can these humans handle that new thing? Do they need ten more years to get to that?” Sometimes we get into a little trouble that way because there’s the progress for the sake of progress. Let’s take that step back and go, “This is cool because it’s a progress.” Is it serving? How is it serving? Is it serving for a moment because it’s an exciting new shiny thing or is this benefiting all of us over time? It takes a lot of courage to stop and ask, “How is this serving? How is this helping?” A lot of times, many of us have fallen to this too. We come back into that place of, “I’ve got to do this new thing in my business so I can get more clients because I need to make my revenue goals. I need to make payroll.” The magazine is on the newsstand the same day that the other person’s magazine is on the newsstand. We get caught in the competition.
I like to often ask, “How do we take ourselves out of competition and make the switch into cooperation?” We can still innovate the stuff and make a lot of cool new things and do it for good. If we’re doing it in cooperation, not only is it going to benefit more and more people. Let’s say that there are you and me who are both speakers. What if we got together and did a speaking tour together? What would happen if we bring our audiences together and we bring our contacts together? We potentially have the ability to impact more people, make more change, deliver a higher level of service because you’re bringing your magic, your special sauce and the whole stuff into the mix and I’m doing the same thing. That math of one plus one equals eleven, that’s where that stuff happens.Leadership needs to be on board with humanizing workplaces. Click To Tweet
I feel that competition is what’s driving a lot of the struggles that we talked about and treating people less than human. It circles all back to some level of competition so there lies an issue. With more collaboration and cooperation, we can have more humanization in the organization. Ben, we talked a lot about culture and values within the organization and I appreciate you for your knowledge and expertise on that, but how did you become an expert in that area? If there’s some audience that maybe wants to become an expert in a particular field and express themselves in the area, how can they be there?
What I’ve come to figure out over the years observing from other people trying and failing quite a few times, there is no such thing as failure as long as don’t give up. What I’ve come to understand is that whether it’s your company and whether it’s yourself, this idea of positioning yourself as an expert, authority or thought leader, focus on how can you be one of a kind. How can you stand out and bring your unique aspects of yourself across? There are a lot of people in business, there are a lot of consultants out there, and there are a lot of speakers. We all might be talking on a lot of the same topics. It’s important to stand out for the ability to succeed so we can take ourselves out of the competition game. There are plenty of businesses out there for everyone and most of us are not going to serve ten million people in our lifetimes. We don’t need extreme success. We only need a small amount of that group.
How do we stand out uniquely in the context of those other people so we attract the right people to us rather than having to chase after all these people in the marketplace? The biggest few things for me is to connect to what is our special sauce and what makes us unique. That’s who we are as individuals because we have these skills, this expertise, our failures, our successes, our case studies and all that stuff. Nobody can do what Rodney does. Nobody can do what Ben does. Some people can do some of the things that we do, but we can do what we do because we’re unique and there’s no one like us who has our perspective. When we connect with that, express, are able to talk about that, and talk about it in a way that connects to the people that we serve, what they want, how we can serve them best, then that’s where the goods happen in a big way.
You have something very unique happen to you. It was out in India. Do you want to share that with us?
That’s a beautiful bridge because not only does this story contribute to my own special sauce, the experience that I had in this story also is part of what I teach and what I share from the stage all the time. I’ll give you the double story of India. The first one which seems more exciting is powerful because it connected me to my purpose. Within the space of 72 hours, I faced death from four crazy things happening. My boss is almost going off a cliff, then running from a forest fire, encountering a poisonous snake and then encountering a mountain lion. That whole experience did a couple of things for me, which are good reminders for all of the gifts that we have of being alive, being able to be in the world and help other people. I want to help a bunch of people with the rest of my life for however, that long that is. I tell that story because it’s fun, but it’s also not the most impactful story in my life.
The most impactful one was about two blisters that I got on my feet. This is coming from India. I was getting ready to go on a hike and I didn’t have good hiking boots. I got the current boots that I had, I got them fixed from a cobbler. We were going to go on a nine-day hike here and we were in the Himalayas in northern India and it’s 12,000 feet up. Every other day, we were going over 16,000 feet high passes so this was hard trekking. This is no joke. The work that the guy did create two blisters on each of my Achilles tendon. This is before lunchtime on the first day. When I figured this out, I took off my shoes and I looked at my feet. I looked up at the sky and I was like, “Why me? Why this? Why now?” I got all this drama and those legitimate stuff like, “I’m going to have to hike with painful feet.” It was also adding a lot of stories as you can probably tell. I started hiking because the only thing I could do was walk forward. Literally and metaphorically, the only way to go is forward. Some hiking is one day, two days or three days. Every single step was painful.
It’s painful day after day and hour after hour. Every time I got that pain, I would just be so mad and I’d be like, “Why this? Why me? When is it going to be over? Why does this have to happen?” I was shaking my fist at the sky. After a couple of days, I was looking at the top of the Himalayas around me and everything looked extra beautiful and extra magical. I was like, “What’s going on here? Why does it look different? I’m not on drugs. I used to do drugs. I’m not doing any drugs anymore. It’s definitely not drugs happening here. Why does stuff look different?” I realized that for these past days, with every one of those painful steps, it was keeping me in the present moment. I had never spent my life at the present moment before. Most of my life I was worried about the future and regretting the past. I may be being in the present moment for a little bit here and there but never for three days straight. Suddenly I was like, “This is what they’re talking about. This is why the present moment is so powerful.”
I started paying attention to that, stopped having judgment and stopped shaking my fist at the sky. After a couple of days, I was like, “Something else is going on here. What’s going on here?” I realized that I understood the difference between pain and suffering. Pain is something that happens at the moment like the blister feeling or I bumped my foot on the door or I feel sad because I heard some difficult news in the world. Suffering is when we add all that extra stuff, that drama, that story, that judgment of self, that judgment of others, and all that stuff. We create suffering for ourselves by adding all of that extra stuff. For the rest of the hike, I had a lot of pain still. Every single step was still painful, but it was a much different experience because I wasn’t adding all of that baggage onto the experience. I feel very grateful to have had it and I’m very grateful to be able to share that with people.
Ben, how can people connect with you if they wanted to reach out to you, work with you and learn more about you? How can they get in touch with you?
I invite everybody who’s reading this to check out InfluenceWithAHeart.com, which is the easiest way to see me and my stuff. I spoke a little bit about the importance of positioning yourself as a thought leader or as an expert or as being one of a kind and how important that is. If you go to InfluenceWithAHeart.com/unique, I have a super quick assessment that you can do. Download it yourself. It takes about five minutes and you can take a look at yourself and your stuff and see if you’re positioning yourself uniquely or if you just sound like everybody else. Not only does it help you get aware, but it also helps you think about some steps that you can take to position yourself uniquely so you can stand out and stop having to compete for business.
I want to thank you for being on the show. This has been a wonderful conversation. I’m so sad it has to come to an end. I’m looking forward to continuing this conversation and learning more from you about culture, values and barriers that we face in organizations as well as how to position ourselves as experts. We all have something to give. We all have something to contribute to the world. The more we can understand how to do that and express ourselves in a powerful way, the more in good shape the world would be with us being here. It’s been a pleasure.
Me too, Rodney, thank you so much. I appreciate the questions, the insights and making me think and not just to answer questions. I feel a little bit smarter and wiser because of this conversation so thank you.
I’m sure the audience enjoyed it as well. There you have it, another successful episode of the Game Changer Mentality podcast. Thank you, Ben, once again for being on the show and for the audience, the takeaway of this show is to stop adding a story to your pain. That will alleviate the suffering. Until next time, stay blessed.
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About Ben Gioia
Ben Gioia (“joya”) is the creator of the Influence With A Heart™ Method, specifically designed for purpose-driven entrepreneurs and organizations get more leads, get more clients, and 7X their income… without selling their souls.
Ben is a 2X bestselling author & international speaker. So whether he’s positioning global thought leaders, teaching mindful leadership to audiences at Stanford, or helping a Fortune 100 implement EQ (emotional intelligence), Ben is highly recognized for shifting culture, improving resilience, and turning employees into evangelists.
Are you ready to shed your past, rise above your present, and go confidently in the direction of your dreams? The first step? Decide. Choose right here and now to make a move. Set your intention. Then simply ask Rodney for help. https://rodneyflowers.com/mentoring/
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