Along their career paths, leaders and those who aspire to lead have opportunities in a variety of posts, but successfully switching lanes along career paths requires specific knowledge and skills. Failure to master the specific skills needed for each path can cause a career to founder or even come to a screeching halt.
Professor, coach, and author Meredith Persily Lamel is an expert in guiding both seasoned and budding leaders to success in any role. Her research-based 2021 book, Six Paths to Leadership: Lessons from Successful Executives, Politicians, Entrepreneurs, and More , is a roadmap and toolkit for buoying leadership success across the six major career paths (promoted, hired, elected, appointed, founded, and family legacy).
Meredith's data is based on current research in the field and interviews with more than sixty-five global leaders from a variety of career paths and backgrounds, including executives, politicians. and prominent government appointees. She is a renowned domestic and global executive career-transition coach and trusted advisor, having served leaders across the U.S. and in thirty-seven countries across five continents.
About Meredith Persily Lamel
Meredith Persily Lamel is a professor, executive coach, consultant, and facilitator who has served complex, global firms in the technology, healthcare, financial services, and government sectors across the U.S. and in seventeen countries across five continents. She is founder and CEO of Aspire@Work, serves on the faculty American University’s School of Public Administration’s Key Leadership Programs, is credentialed as a Professional Certified Coach (P.C.C.) by the International Coach Federation, and holds an MBA (The University of Chicago Booth School of Business) and a B.A. (Brown University). For more about Prof. Lamel, see her LinkedIn and academic profile.
Rebel HR is a podcast for HR professionals and leaders of people who are ready to make some disruption in the world of work.
We'll be discussing topics that are disruptive to the world of work and talk about new and different ways to approach solving those problems.
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You have to stop referencing your former employer. Everyone knows where you came from. They don't need to be reminded constantly and it's really undermining your ability to become one of them. They are going to continue seeing you as an other unless you start embracing the identity of you know of your new employer.Kyle Roed:
This is the rebel HR Podcast, the podcast where we talk to HR innovators about all things people leadership. If you're looking for places to find about new ways to think about the world of work, this is the podcast for you. Please subscribe my favorite podcast listening platform today. And leave us a review. Rebel on HR rebels. Welcome back. revelator. Our listeners extremely excited for the conversation today. Before we hit record, we were already having a wonderful conversation and I had to hit record really quick before we got too deep into it. So with us today we have Meredith personally. She is the CEO and founder of executive coaching firm Aspire at work, a consultant and facilitator. She specializes in leadership challenges of complex global organizations in a lot of different sectors including government, technology, healthcare and financial services. Meredith has called on to help us challenge our selves and our management teams. She facilitates the development of their vision, vision and strategic goals and instigates transformation. She is featured in a number of different publications and PR entrepreneur Sherm politico rollcall. She has written a book called The six paths to leadership lessons from successful executives, politicians, entrepreneurs, and more. Welcome to the show.Meredith Persily:
Thanks so much, Kyle.Kyle Roed:
I'm really excited about this. And I know we're going to learn a lot today. With us. We also have Molly Bradesco. Molly, as always, thank you for joining us. All right, so we are we are going to jump right into it. So I know the book has been out for a while it's available in all bookstores. The first question I want to ask is What prompted you to write the book six paths to leadership?Meredith Persily:
Well, thanks for the question I, I am really excited to have the opportunity to share this book with your listeners. Because the reason why I wrote it is because I felt like there was something missing from the leadership literature. As an executive coach and leadership trainer, an area that I often would support would support organizations with is the whole process of onboarding new leaders into new roles. So whether it was succession planning or orientation for new members of Congress and their and their senior senior staff members, you know, the goal so often is to get leaders in new roles off on the right foot. And what I was noticing is that the, the attributes that would be highlighted and the strategies for, for getting off on the right foot, were equally applied across contexts. And yet, what should be done in the first month of an elected member of Congress's new role is entirely different than you know, a new senior vice president who was promoted into that role, having worked his or her way up through the organization over a period of time, I was also working with family business leaders, and, you know, when they, when the torch would be passed from generation one to two to three, again, very different ways to think about those first months and leadership. So along with my co author, Mark Clark, who's a professor at American University, Kogod School of Business, we identified, researched and validated six different paths into leadership positions, and set out to provide those distinctions to, you know, to our audience, right to leaders, to HR executives, everyone who supports leaders in getting off on the right foot. And so, yeah, I'll be happy to talk about those six different path.Molly Burdess:
First of all, I just have to say, I love this topic. And I completely agree this was missing. And so many of the leadership books, I feel like I've been asked so many times, like, well, what kind of leader are you? And it's like, well, it depends on what kind of leader I need to be at that time. And I think you said earlier before we started recording, but context is so important when it comes to leadership. So kudos to you for identifying what was missing and and writing about it. I definitely appreciate it. Thank you for that.Kyle Roed:
I think it's a really interesting approach and and, you know, I think that one of the things that's really interesting is you've, you've really done a lot of research on, you know, some of these insights, some of these distinct paths as you describe them in the book. So, can you just walk us through, you know, what those paths are? And maybe what some of the the insights you found as you're writing this book?Meredith Persily:
Absolutely. So let me just start with, you know, what the six paths are. Some of these might be totally obvious, and some might be, might be new for some of your listeners. But the first path is the most common one, we hear about the promoted path, right, we also call that one the insider path, because that is the main differentiator for the promoted path you are coming in from coming up from the inside, you know, the culture, you know, the players, you know, the work, right, that's the first path. The second path, then is, of course, the outsider path, most likely the second most frequented by, by your listeners, right. And you know, that outsider path or hired from the outside, key differentiator, there, we are probably hiring someone from the outside for that leadership position, because we don't have the skills expertise. In the on the inside, you know, as HR leaders, your listeners know that those tend to be more expensive. But there are tons of advantages and disadvantages for that path as well. The next path, again, I work in the government sector, as well, is the elected path. So these are, you know, in so many ways, these are the leaders that are most talked about, right? When we talk about our world leaders, our country leaders are our city leaders. And yet, so much of the leadership literature really doesn't apply to the day to day challenges of our elected leaders who are whose stakeholders, you know, how they got into office, who they represent, the terms of their leadership position are very different, right set terms or the idea of reelection, that comes into play, we can talk about how that works for and against those leaders as well. The fourth path is the appointed path. So I am based out of Washington, DC. So we you know, the HR leaders around here are going to be more familiar with this path. But in this path, we looked at two different types of appointed leaders, the political appointees, who have some of the most influential and powerful positions in our country, you know, Secretary defense, Secretary of the Army, Secretary of Health and Human Services, where your listeners probably intersect quite a bit, right? Very, very powerful positions, running organizations of 1000s of employees, but also, you know, implementing policy. And that path, we actually called the proxy path, because so much of their power comes from the principal who appointed them. So we have promoted, outside hire elected appointed, the final two paths are the creator path or the founder path, right? Those are the individuals who are the entrepreneurs, right? They start a company now, when you first start a company, and it's you and your buddy, I don't know that we can actually call that a leadership position. But certainly we see over time as successful entrepreneurs grow their businesses, they become extremely influential leaders. And in fact, in today's world, they're some of the most notable leaders, right, whether, you know, we're talking about Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, you know, and certainly other leaders from the past who become, you know, high profile leaders. So those are the creators. And then the last path is called the family legacy path. And that's where we get into leaders of family businesses. Interestingly enough, when we first started researching that path, and it was, by the way, my favorite path to research, I learned more about the family legacy path than anything else, and really grew my empathy for people in that path. But we initially wanted to call it the inherited path. And that did not go over well with the people we were interviewing, which actually says a lot about the path itself, right? The the individuals who take over family businesses, they don't see it as something that they simply inherit, they actually work quite hard, oftentimes competing against other family members to hold those family legacy positions. Nevertheless, they they have an awful lot of responsibility and challenge by being part of that part of that legacy. So those are the six paths that we identified, and I Um, so far we haven't found and the only other path that we considered exploring was the purchased path, right, which was basically, you buy a business, and then you kind of elect yourself head. But we saw that path as having a lot of overlap with usually the outsider path, or even the founder path. And then oftentimes you buy a business and you promote someone from within. And so it's actually the promoted path. And so it's more about the way that the company was acquired, as opposed to how the leadership position was acquired. So we decided, through our research that it wasn't, it wasn't its own path.Kyle Roed:
It's really interesting. And I think, you know, one of the, the themes that we seem to be honing in on here is that, you know, there's a lot of nuance to, to leadership, and I think so often, especially in human resources, where we are asked to define, you know, what is a good leader look like? Or what should this training program look like? What should this or that look like, and a lot of times, we try to simplify as much as possible. But, you know, what's interesting with this approach is it's it's, it's much more targeted to the individuals path. And and I'm thinking about this really in the context of as we think about structuring learning and development, you know, performance management, succession planning. You know, as we think about recruiting, if we are going the path of hiring, you know, what, what do we need to consider it because there that might be a different path. So, as you think about that, what, what would be maybe a, maybe a key insight about the six paths and how we should think about that, in human resources. And you know, how this kind of works or interplays, with some of our learning and development and performance management systems.Meredith Persily:
So I'm going to share with you the, my favorite tool from the whole, the whole book, right. Our entire appendix has tools for coaches and HR leaders to support people in the different paths. But I think that this one is really going to speak to your, you know, to your HR leaders to your listeners. So one of the things that we did was put together what a personal onboarding plan would look like for an outside hire versus a promoted. And first of all, one of the things that we heard from our, from our interviews with leaders, again, we we interviewed over 65 leaders across the paths is that oftentimes, when you're on the promoted path, in particular, there's no onboarding done for you. And yet, they really need onboarding just as much as those outside hires. But the point we were trying to make is that that onboarding, should look very different for an outside hire and for a promoted and so you know, you almost as as an l&d, there's like a Venn diagram, let's say you're onboarding a whole cohort of leaders, we need to think about what are the things that both of these groups need outside and inside, as well, as you know, what did they both need, but then what might they need that's different. And so I'm just going to go through a few of these, that would be in the onboarding plan. So for an outside hire, you would need to learn the corporate policies and procedures, right? New for them. For the promoted, you need to identify the norms and practices of the new forums that you're going to be part of meetings, decision making processes, etc. Right. So as a director, you may have been, there were certain norms, now you have new norms. Now, of course, the outside hire need to learn everything. But we would probably be more intentional about sharing those things with an outside hire. But just kind of expect the promoted to figure these things out. Even though the norms could be totally different. For an outside hire, you would probably interview the previous position holder, assuming you are able to do that, again, if that person were dismissed, it could be a little bit harder. You also need to do that when you're promoted. Even if that person is your former boss, right? A lot of times there's that cascading of promotions. But do we really expect that promoted? You know, they've they've been watching their boss for years, but they have they actually interviewed that person to talk with them about the day to day challenges, not necessarily. And so how can we as HR help make that conversation more productive and more intentional. For an outside hire, there's a job description included in the hiring process for the perm. loaded. Sometimes we need to write the job description, write the job description and confirm assumptions with the stakeholders, right? Because you might make a lot of assumptions about what that job includes, again, once again, based on how your former boss did it. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's inclusive of all the expectations. Right? And so again, how can we in l&d and HR help to almost maximize the expectations or change those expectations, and maybe that person is retiring, and folks are seeing this job in a totally new way. Right. So helping to challenge those assumptions. You know, there's listening tours are very commonly promoted for outside hires, we also want them for promoted. And there's an additional piece of that promoted, that's really important. It's important for outside hires as well, but especially for promoted, which is retention conversations, right? So, you know, I'm, I'm working with my buddies for five years, my boss leaves, I interview for the position, I get promoted. Now, I'm suddenly right, managing former peers, this is a very common challenge for the promoted from within path. I am so focused on on my, you know, some of the imposter syndrome. And, you know, all these new meetings and opportunities that I get, when one of the first things I need to do is figure out, I need to talk to my former peers and figure out what do I need to do to retain them? What do I need to do to continue helping to them grow and develop? Right? And that needs to be front and center of your listening tour is how can I design their jobs in ways that they're going to continue working for me assuming that I want them to stay? Which is also a question that, you know, is part of that. Anyway, I can go on here. But you know, first impressions on outside hire, where you want to focus on reputational shifts for for the promoted, right. You need to have a primer on the culture as an outside hire. But you need to think about what is the culture you're trying to lead and create as a promoted? And how do you do that in a way without offending those people who may have promoted you? So anyway, many, many different options. There's more to this particular tool, but I hope that you can see what we are trying to do there is it's it's like, l&d has the same process. But there's these tweaks or these emphases that are different. And that I think we do a disservice if we don't acknowledge what those differences are.Molly Burdess:
There's a lot, a lot of good stuff. There's a lot of tools in this book, for sure. So one thing I'm thinking of, as you know, you're talking about these six different paths, my mind kind of went to different cultures, because I've been in the family legacy type. Organization, I've been in the promoted internally, I've been in the you know, all those different types of organizations and my mind and HR is I have to figure out how to navigate these cultures within these different leaders. So do you have any advice? Or does the book talks about any anything regarding just navigating the different cultures within these?Meredith Persily:
Yeah, so you know, I guess there's both the navigating, but because this is geared towards leaders, it's also about how do you lead these cultures from these different perspectives as well, right. And so it's twofold. The family legacy one, for example, one of the great advantages of that family legacy culture, or family legacy leader is that there's something called the Family DNA. This is what this is what they call them and family businesses, which is that, you know, that ingrained culture of your family values that gets passed on generation to generation. So some of the best practices we saw there is how are those stories told and retold over time to really build that connection for those leaders? And also, how do we make sure that as a family legacy leader, you bring others bring the employees, the non family leaders into that DNA in a really positive way. Now, sometimes, that next generation needs to update that family culture a little bit. And so that's part of leading that way as well is holding on to what's great about that family DNA, but then also being a pioneer and adapting. And the simplest one there is, you know, depending on how long a family business has been around, oftentimes it was the sons only who took over, right, and now we are seeing many family businesses led by female leaders, which is obviously going to change some of the ways that the culture is talked about, I think in terms of learning the culture, you know, again, there's this interesting balance around learning the culture, adapting to the culture, and then being a change agent around the culture. And for each of the different paths, there's different challenges around being a change agent around culture. You know, in the case of the appointed leader, for example, they their culture is driven by their principal. And so understanding the values and the intentions of the principal, because part of your duty as an appointed leader is to reinforce that and implement that, as an elected leader, it's about searching within, to really identify, you know, your vision of service. And, and thinking about the type of culture that reflects your personal brand, because a huge part of the elected leader is that your product is you. It's not, you know, it's not a widget, it's not a service. And so doing that self reflection work to know what you stand for the culture you want to create in your office, so that your staff is reinforcing your personal brand and culture with the various constituencies. When it comes to the creators, right, the founders, some of the great stories that we heard there was similar to the elected leader, actually, those two tend to have a lot more similarity. But, you know, you don't have to implement somebody else's culture, you get to drive the culture that you want to create. And so doing that, again, that self reflection work early on, what are your values, and we, you know, we interviewed a female leader who, you know, for her work, life balance and family was absolutely critical. And so, you know, unlike every job she had held previously, she made sure that any kind of forced fun activities were always done during work hours, so that they wouldn't affect people's, you know, children responsibilities. On the inside, on the insider and the outsider. Again, really thinking about this change agent idea is really important. And what we talk about there, there's so many things there, I'll try to, I'll try to be brief here, but really, really passionate about, about this one in particular, which is that when you're promoted, you are often promoted, because you are a good cultural fit. But as a leader, you have to question the culture, right? You have to think about what is going to bring our organization forward. And you're well positioned, because you have that credibility to start asking some of those questions. But when the people who promoted you are people you've known for a long time, then the courage it takes to challenge some of those cultural norms is very real. And so how do you do that from a place of courage. But also, as an insider, you also bring the stories of all the things that haven't worked in the past. And sometimes that makes you give up on change a little too quickly. Right? Contrast that with the outside hire who's often brought in to be a change agent. Right? However, just because the hiring committee, the headhunter, whomever hired you to change the culture coming in, as YouTube know very well, that does not mean that that change is going to be welcome. And so how can you as a change agent, do that from a place of empathy and support? And so we provide a lot of guidance to individuals around that. We told some horror stories where, you know, particularly when people a lot of times when people are brought in from the outside, they're brought in from the competition. Right. And, you know, there's this assumption that It just because you came from someone who has higher market share or a better reputation, that therefore your ideas are better? Well, first of all, it's not necessarily true, right? It doesn't mean the experience isn't valid, but we can't just blanketly say everything from that other company is automatically going to be better than the way that we did things, right. But more importantly, you know, understanding and appreciating how your new teams or new colleagues view that competition. And we heard a lot of stories around having to overcome severe distrust, right? Because they came from the competition, we don't trust them, how do we know that they're not coming in as a spy, to take everything back to their friends, right, or, you know, this was the person that you would see on panels and poopoo everything that they said previously, right. And, and so you know, they need to really intentionally build trust. And a lot of that is through practicing real humility, but also being educated about what has and hasn't worked, and just not assuming that all of your ideas are things that they've never heard of. And also being really careful. And these are, this is one of the horror stories we shared of how often you're referencing your former employee, right. So if it's, you know, well, at XYZ company, we did, you know, ABC over and over again, and I actually saw that in real life and had to bring a leader to the side and say, you have to stop referencing your former employer, everyone knows where you came from. They don't need to be reminded constantly, and it's really undermining your ability to become one of them. Right, they are going to continue seeing you as an other unless you start embracing the identity of, you know, of your new employer. So anyway, that was, you know, a lot, a lot of information again, but I think, you know, hopefully, it reinforces, you know, when you have these goals around culture, both adapting to as well as challenging, and, and changing why understanding your leadership path is absolutely essential.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, you know, I think it's, it's a really good point. And I can tell, when you, you told the story of the person who was was referencing their previous employer too much, I, I have a couple, you know, similar stories, where it's like, almost every meeting, you'd be in with this individual. And well, you know, when I was here, we did it this way. And, you know, this, you know, and so and so on, we should do it this way, because this is what I used to, you know, and every time they do it, they they didn't pick up on everybody's nonverbal cues, but everybody in the room just had this, like, this collective eyeroll, you know, and it's like, okay, yeah, that's, yeah, we're on the same team now. So. Right, so true, I think in the same context, too, it's like, you know, I think a great point for, for those that got promoted is, a lot of times they assume that they should just kind of toe the line and hold the status quo, because that's what got them where they are. But to our earlier point, if they don't have a really clear understanding of what that job description is, now, what the expectations of that role are, and, and maybe, you know, maybe they are expected to be driving change, you know, they potentially could be facing some, some serious issues, and, you know, performance challenges if they're not taking a more active role. And I think a lot of times, many promoted folks do kind of take a little bit of a step back and just try to kind of assimilate into, you know, an assumption of what they think their role is. So really great, great things to highlight there.Meredith Persily:
And I think another way to look at it, too, is, you know, if you're just sort of doing what was always done, are you a leader, or are you a follower,Kyle Roed:
right, right?Meredith Persily:
And are you challenging yourself to maximise on your potential around the impact you want to have as a leader. And that insider path is actually one of the harder ones in that way. One of the coaching suggestions that we give people is when they are really challenged on on showing up more as a leader, as we say to them, if you were to take on so they're, you know, director of this team of this department, if instead of being promoted, you were hired from the outside, how would you approach your role differently? What would be the first thing you would do? And sort of, right because so much about these paths is around a mindset and try on a different mindset? Or what if you were to try on the appointed leader, where the average tenure of an appointed leader is 18 months? So if you had that sense of urgency, how might you approach your job differently? You know, would that enable you to focus? And because the big part of successful appointed leaders, you know, a huge part of the advice there is like, pick your top two priorities, because that's all you're going to be able to, you know, you're not going to be able to have an impact on much more than that. So it really forces you to get laser focused on priorities. And so, you know, but if you're in this role, and you're like, Oh, I'm going to be in this role for 10 years, you might not feel that sense of urgency, right to try on a new mindset.Molly Burdess:
That's fantastic advice. I definitely think all good leaders should be asking those questions. That's probably my biggest takeaway from today.Meredith Persily:
Yeah, I mean, think about founders, right. Like, founders, one of the things that's so exciting about working for a founder is their passion. Right? And so, we've all worked with leaders that are missing that fire in the belly. Say, so if this were your company, if you were the majority shareholder? Right. And you were trying to engage your team, what would be the messages you would give them?Kyle Roed:
Yeah, absolutely. And I think, you know, probably, maybe one of the most important things about this discussion, that's you know, is it's driving awareness to those different, you know, those different contexts that people have, right, you know, in thinking about, you know, I think about it like, well, there's going to be certain, certain things that this person is going to naturally excel at, because of this path. But there's, there's also going to be areas where we need to give them a little bit more support. You know, they, they, they might struggle in this area or that area, specifically, because they don't have, you know, a deep social network with the company already, or because they don't have the trust, because they're coming from a competitor, you know, those just being aware of that, as we think about, you know, onboarding, and bringing people on and bringing people up and, you know, preparing some of these, you know, these these structures and systems in our organizations, I think, just so important. So, yeah, it's great, great content.Molly Burdess:
Yeah. And as an HR practitioner, I think we can take these tools and really help guide and be a mentor for the for these leaders within our organizations. Also ourselves, of course,Meredith Persily:
yeah, absolutely. And we have reflection questions at the end of every path chapter that are great places for HR leaders to start is just to, you know, to ask them those questions to help them to do the reflections that they need to do around their path.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. Well, this, this has just been a wonderful conversation, where we're coming to the end of our a lot of time here. And I want to make sure that we get a chance to do the rebel HR flash round. So we're gonna shift gears, I'm going to ask you a question number one, where does HR need to rebel?Meredith Persily:
Wow, well, you know, I almost feel like these past few years have been so challenging for HR that to make them to make yet another ask of them is, is is really a lot. That said, that said, I think that, that they need to really challenge themselves around what needs to be customized and what needs to be one size fits all. You know, leadership really does require greater customization. And so HR needs to get those resources to, to support leaders in a more customized way. That would be that would be my answer.Kyle Roed:
I love that answer. I couldn't agree more.Molly Burdess:
To both parts.Kyle Roed:
Right. You know, what came into my head was the out John song, I'm still standing, you know, after, you know, it's been two years, you know, still here?Meredith Persily:
Absolutely. I mean, one of the I think one of the positives of of all of these challenging years is that, at least I'm seeing, you know, the importance of HR and the responsiveness of HR was just completely in the limelight. Right. I mean, what organizations pulled off in terms of turning in person workforces into virtual was between IT and HR, it could not have been done and it was really quite heroic efforts. That I think I think organizations are recognizing.Kyle Roed:
Yeah, yeah, I agree. 100% Great, great moment for us to step up and and, you know, do what we are supposed to be doing. So Question number two, who should we be listening to?Meredith Persily:
We have to listen to young people. They are challenging our organizations, their expectations of employers are different. And we have to really listen, we have to really listen. Otherwise, we're going to be stuck with an ageing workforce in our companies, and we're not going to be able to fill essential positions. So we can't just go through the exercise, we need to really listen to them.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. If we don't, I can tell you what's going to happen. They're not going to want to work for us anymore. So which I think we're seeing a little bit right now.Molly Burdess:
Worse, yeah, it drives me nuts. When I hear somebody say, Well, this generation, this generation does this. It's like, okay, but what are we gonna do about it, let's, let's change our thought process with this, and let's make it a positiveMeredith Persily:
one. You can't fight, you can't fight the changing demographics. So you have to, you have to, you know, practice that growth mindset and really try to understand and, and they have a lot, they have a lot to say, and they have a lot of ideas. And you're not going to take all of them, but there are many that are that you will take, and that are going to be that are really going to help move our organizations forward.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely. All right. Final question. How can our listeners connect with you?Meredith Persily:
Well, I'm not I'm not be I'm not on every single social media. Place, but but the main ones of course, I'm Twitter. So Meredith, Meredith personally, LinkedIn, please connect with me on LinkedIn as well. And then my website is aspirant work.com.Kyle Roed:
Absolutely, we'll have all that information in the show notes. The book again, if you want to check it out six paths to leadership, lessons from successful executives, politicians, entrepreneurs, and more. We'll have a link to the book as well in the show notes. So Meredith, just been a wonderful conversation. Really appreciate your time. And thanks for putting this content out there.Meredith Persily:
Thank you really appreciate it. Thanks, man.Kyle Roed:
All right. That does it for the rebel HR podcast. Big thank you to our guests. Follow us on Facebook at rebel HR podcast, Twitter, at rebel HR guy, or see our website at rebel human resources.com. The views and opinions expressed by rebel HR podcast are those the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any of the organizations that we represent. No animals were harmed during the filming of this podcast. Made maybe