Would you spend a career writing leadership books? And if so what would that look like?
Glenn Parker has written and published over a dozen books in this genre. He’s also co-author of Positive Influence: The Leader Who Helps People Become Their Best Self with his son Michael.
This book demonstrates the various ways leaders have positively influenced the lives and careers of many successful people.
In this interview, Glenn explains:
- The four primary types of leaders… and how to identify your preferred style
- His ideal writing routine
- How he built and sustained a career writing leadership books
- Where he finds leadership book ideas
- His non-fiction writing research process
And lots more.
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Bryan: Write what you love to read. The other day, I was reflecting on that piece of writing advice that I got from the story instructor, Robert McKee. I was reflecting on the different types of books I've read over the years and the different writing genres I've tried. And if you're new at writing, you're probably wondering what type of genre should you specialize in? What type of writing should you spend your time on?
When I was getting started writing back when I was a teenager, I always wanted to write fiction and I was inspired by books like the BFG by Roald Dahl. And I spent a lot of time studying how to tell short stories and later on in my 20s, how to write literary fiction. I wasn't particularly good at writing literary fiction and it's a really hard type of writing to break into. In other words, it wasn't helping me pay the bills. After I completed a degree in journalism, I got into technology journalism, where I wrote for a couple of different publications in Ireland, magazines and websites. And I covered things like the Apple iPhone launch and the latest news about big tech companies and who they were hiring or firing at the time because it was back in 2007, 2008, during the great recession.
And although technology journalism was interesting. I found it a little bit dry and state and I still wanted to write something literary. I started getting into nonfiction and that's when I took a series of writing classes in the Irish Writers Center in Dublin. And from writing literary nonfiction, I eventually moved into learning copywriting. That's writing words that sell and also blogging, which is what I do and become a writer today.
And then I moved into instructional writing, whereby you talk about a topic or you write about a topic and explain how readers can put what you've learned into practice. And then I moved into business self-help articles, which I write a lot for Forbes, whereby I interview people, ask them about problems in their business and how they overcame them.
I'd like to move more into the genre of memoir and also to get back into more colorful writing. And the way to do that, is to read books from those genres. And that brings me to the piece of advice that I got from the writing instructor, Robert McKee because when I met him at a conference, he told me afterwards, "You should write what you love to read."
If you're wondering what type of genre you should try, I'd encourage you to look at your bookshelf, pick up a couple of books that you've finished recently and that you enjoyed and ask yourself, "Are these thrillers? Are these self-help? Are these business books? Or what type of books are they?"
You could also look at the articles that you've been reading on your phone or on the go. I use the [inaudible 00:03:09] pocket for this. And you can look to all the articles that you shared recently or that you've enjoyed and ask yourself, "Are they blog posts?"
If they are blog posts, what type of niche are they about? Or what's the chosen topic? Or are they longer form articles? Are they personal pieces? Are they business pieces? And so on because if they're gravitating towards one type of genre in a book or a particular type of articles, you're learning through osmosis and this will help you find a springboard into your writing. And of course, the other takeaway that I've gotten from this, is that if you want to change your writing style, then you also need to change what you're reading. There was a time when I figured I needed to write thriller books. And I tried to write a few thriller stories and they weren't very good. A few people told me. And at first, I couldn't quite figure out what I was doing wrong but then I realized what the problem was. I wasn't spending any time reading thriller books because it wasn't a genre I was particularly interested in. I want to enjoy thriller films and dramas. I don't spend a lot of time reading James Patterson and so on.
And I know James Patterson has many fans and I'm not criticizing James Patterson but the takeaway for me from that experience, was that I was wasting my time trying to write in genres that don't really interest me as a reader. I'm always grateful for that takeaway from the story instructor, Robert McKee. And I mentioned that I actually met him at a conference in the West of Ireland a few years ago. And he spoke quite well about the importance of storytelling in fiction or nonfiction. If you're not familiar with Robert McKee, he is a leader within the writing genre.
And I would say he is a particular type of leader. He's a teacher. And that brings me up to this week's interview. No, I'm not interviewing Robert McKee. Although he is somebody I would love to get on the Become a Writer Today show. I'm interviewing Glenn Parker from positiveinfluenceleader.com. And he's about to publish his new book, Positive Influence: The Leaders Who Helps People Become Their Best Self. And in his book, Glenn proposes that there are four types of leaders. There are supportive leaders, who are teachers like Robert McKee. There are motivators. And there are role models.
In this week's interview, Glenn explains what the types of leaders I've just talked about do. He explains how you can identify your leadership style or the leadership style of people that you're working with. And Glenn has written over a dozen leadership and business books over the years. And I was particularly interested to hear about how he stays so interested in one genre. And he talks about that in this week's interview. And finally, we get into his writing process, on how it's changed since he became an author many years ago but before we get into this week's interview, I do have an ask for you. If you've enjoyed the Become a Writer Today podcast, leave a rating and a short review on the iTunes store or on Pocket Casts or Stitcher or wherever you're listening to this show because when you leave a review or when you leave a rating, it'll help more people find the show. And it would mean a lot to me.
Now, let's get over to this week's interview. And I started by asking Glenn how he came up with the idea for his new book, the Positive Influence Leader in the first place.
Glenn: Yes. It's my first job out of graduate school. And it's my first performance review with my boss, Larry. And I have to tell you that the job that I had involved doing research and writing reports, not terribly exciting but that's what I was hired to do. And so we get to a point in the performance evaluation and it's going quite well and Larry thinks that I've done a good job. And you get that point toward the end of the performance evaluation, where we talk about a development plan, "What do you want to do going forward, to increase your development and your growth opportunities?"
And so I say, "It looks like the people in the other side of the department who are doing leadership training, seem to be having a lot of fun and enjoying it. Traveling all over the country, conducting leadership training."
And I said, "Larry, I'd like to observe a class to see if that might be something I'd like to do."
He said, "Okay, Glenn. As a matter of fact, I'm making a trip next week where I'm going to be conducting several classes and you can come along with me. However, I really can't justify the travel expenses unless you conduct some part of the training."
At that point, my lips start to quiver and I say, "Ah, Larry. I don't know anything. How could I possibly train people?"
And he said, "Glenn, don't worry about it. We'll figure something out."
And he did. And I did. It was a two day program and I conducted about two hours on the second day. And it actually went quite well. And I thought, "Oh, I never considered this as a possibility."
And yet there I was. And from there, that was a game changer. That changed the direction of my life and my career, to become more focused on leadership development and workshop training and organizational development. That was the first positive influence in my life, somebody who ... I'll put it this way, saw something in me that I didn't see in myself and ...
Bryan: And just so I have an idea of a timeline, you're 16 books into your career. This was before you wrote your first book, around when was this?
Glenn: Oh, yes. I was a young lad at this point.
Glenn: I had written a master's thesis. That's about as far as I had gotten in terms of writing. And I hadn't even thought about being a writer and it was only later that I even had got up the courage to do that. This really changed the direction. Larry was a positive influence in my life and significant one and no one would ever confuse Larry with a motivational speaker or Tony Robbins or somebody like that. No, he was just a person that recognized something in people that sometimes they didn't see in themselves. We call that kind of person a motivating, positive influence leader. And essentially, what I would say and what we've heard many other people say from the research that we've done, "Without this person, I wouldn't be where I am today, quite frankly."
And I'm forever appreciative of what he did for me. That was the first thought process of this. And I hadn't even thought about writing a book about it but as I was trying to think about my life, I thought about Larry and what that did for me, if you will. That really describes at least one aspect of being a positive influence leader.
We also talk about somebody who is supportive, somebody who says, "I'm with you. You can do this. I've got your back. I'm willing to help and be support ... I'm not willing to do it for you but I will support your efforts in a way that will make it a positive and effective for you."
Some leaders are what we call teachers. They're teacher positive influence leaders, in the sense that they not only teach you skills and knowledge but they also teach you the things that you need to know in order to be successful. And some of those things are how to navigate a corporate environment, how to do things ... I'll put it this way, Bryan, do things the right way. What's the right way to do things, that it becomes this ... Those things are ethical and they are important in terms of being supportive of the overall corporate strategy.
And in addition to the motivatingly, we also have somebody that we call a role model. The role model is somebody that you look and say, "Oh, that's the way you do it."
They become a standard by which you think about, "How do I become successful?"
And, "Some of the things that I can learn is by watching what you do."
For example, a person that we interviewed, a senior executive with a number ... Has worked in a number of different corporations, said one of his early bosses was a fellow named Bill. And one of the things about him, he watched the way he did things. And one of the key things about Bill was that he did the things that he said he was going to do. In other words, he walked the talk. His words were consistent with his actions. And that's one of the hallmarks of being a role model. One of the interesting sidelights about being a role model, is that people can be very important, very significant role models for people that they've never met.
Bryan: That's actually what struck me about the four types of leaders that you have in your book. How can somebody find these people that are not in your immediate circle, so to speak?
Glenn: Yes. Yes. We know many actors and entertainers and athletes find role models and they are able to learn from how they did things, even not having met them. For example, a famous actor, Jack Nicholson. He has told this story many times about as a young man growing up in New Jersey, he worked in a movie theater. And one summer he saw the movie on the waterfront with Marlon Brando, probably 500 times because he was hip and they showed it twice a day. And he watched it and he was mesmerized and decided that, "That's what I want to do."
And not only did it inspire him to become an actor, he learned from watching in very close detail, how Brando did it. And he also realized that this was not just something he did that came to Brando naturally, he learned later that he studied and studied hard. He studied with Stella Adler and it was very significant. Years and years later, when Nicholson was an established actor, he actually met Brando and told him the story. And they actually ended up living quite near each other in California. And they were able to share that story.
Oprah Winfrey has talked about Maya Angelou as a role model for her and an inspiration for her. And without having met her, she learned about her and was inspired by her from her writings. It was only ... Again, later on when Oprah became famous, that she was able to meet Maya Angelou and share that story but sometimes people never meet their role model.
Glenn: And that's perfectly okay. Basketball players learn from Michael Jordan. Not by watching the way he sat but learning from his discipline, the fact that he practiced and practiced and practiced and practiced the same thing over and over again. The single minded focus that made him great. Other players emulated, wanted to emulate, tried to emulate because they not only saw his success but they saw his devotion to his craft. And actually, some extraordinary stories along those lines.
Bryan: Yeah. He has a fantastic piece of advice about how he's missed thousands more shots than he's actually hit. I'm curious, if somebody is considering starting a business or perhaps writing online or teaching what they know, how can they figure out what their leadership style is, if they don't know?
Glenn: Well, actually, what we decided to do ... And let me just back up a minute on those four styles. When Michael and I started to write this book, we were actually looking for a profile, a description of, "What does a positive influence leader do?"
It would be a description. And then as we conducted interviews, something like 50 interviews with people at a variety of industries and occupations, extraordinarily diverse group of people, people started to tell us different ways that people were a positive influence. And we ended up listening to the data and saying, "There's more than one way to be a positive influence leader."
Eventually, we conceptualized that into four different types of styles. To get to your question, we took that and created a survey, a self assessment survey, in which you answered a series of 18 questions. And the net result of that is a description of your primary style. Now, what we believe is that all of us have the capacity to be all four of those styles. We have just happened to use ... It's a matter of frequency. We happen to use one, sometimes two, more than the others. And if you like, of course, there's also a 360 version of it where you can give the survey to a half a dozen of your colleagues, they can fill it on to you and you'd get their perception of what they think your style is. That's how you can learn. If you don't want to fill out the survey, obviously you can read about the four styles and say, "Hmm, this is the one that I think is most like me."
But the key thing is that all of us have that capacity to use all four styles. And in fact, what we think of as the transformational leader, the one that is above the rest, above all of us, is somebody that is situational. They're situational in the sense that they size up a situation pretty quickly and say, "Hmm, this is what this person needs."
For example, going back to my story about Larry. If Larry had said to me, "Glenn, you can do this. I know this. I believe in you. You're a person that I very much support. And I believe that you can do that."
It wouldn't have happened for me, Bryan. It wouldn't have happened for me but what Larry did, was he positioned me for success. He created the conditions where I could be successful. He didn't say, "Glenn, I want you to conduct the entire two day class, the first time out."
No, he gave me a very specific topic about which I knew quite a bit. Maybe I didn't quite realize it, how much I knew but he did. And so he positioned me for success. He was situational. He saw that in me and saw what I needed and did it. That was critical.
Glenn: Does that make sense?
Bryan: It does make sense. And I'm curious, you talk there about the self assessment, which I believe is in your book but let's say I've identified myself as gravitating more towards a teacher rather than a motivator, should I try and improve my teaching skills even further? Or should I work on my motivation skills, if that's something I'm not so good at?
Glenn: Yes. What I mean is, yes.
Bryan: Yes to both.
Glenn: Yes. That's what I meant. Yes. You can work on getting better at it but you may say, "I would like to be a more well rounded transformational leader. Somebody who's able to work in a number of different environments with a number of different people."
And now, with global corporations and we're working all over the world with all kinds of different people, that's the leader you want to aspire to. You want to be able to work with a diverse group of people, people who have different needs. Some people you may be a role model to. Actually, Larry could have been a role model from just a very specific standpoint of how he taught because one of the things I learned from observing him, is that he tended to use a questioning Socratic method rather than a teacher tell method. And I learned from that, that that was ... With adults, was a preferred way of people learning and building on what they already knew. The answer is yes, you can get better at what you're already good at but you can diversify your ability to deal with situations by increasing your ability to use the other four styles as well.
Bryan: And there's a significant amount of research in your book. You talked about the interviews that you conducted and some of the stories. How did you find a research process for Positive Influence Leader?
Glenn: The process ... I actually in some ways, enjoy the most. I love the interviews. I love the stories that we got from people. Now, you'll be interested in this, as a writer yourself, because there was a little bit of newness to this, we sent out questions in advance and they were pretty simple, open ended questions, "Have you ever had someone who was a positive influence on you in your life?"
And we actually used that phrase, "Without this person, I wouldn't be where I am today."
We asked them, "What did that person do? How was that helpful?"
It was maybe four or five, very open ended questions and it got people talking but it also got them thinking before the interview. That was, I think, a critical piece of the research. And quite frankly, Bryan, people really enjoyed telling that story of the person that was a positive influence on them. It was a positive experience for them to talk about that, to remember it and they enjoy talking about it.
Now, I will tell you one other thing that came out of the interviews, pretty early on. A couple of people first did say to us, "What about negative influence? I've had some negative influence in my life. Are you interested in that?"
And we said, "Yeah. Yes, we are. Tell us about-"
Bryan: And what type of negative influences did people have in their lives, was it a family or boss they didn't like? Or something else.
Glenn: Yes. Yes again. Yes again. Yes. Quite frankly, a parent saying to a young person who's about to go to college, "What are you going to do with a history degree?"
As if to say, "You can't do anything with a history degree."
Well, not exactly true, Bryan, not exactly true. And guess what this woman did with her history degree, she's now a senior level curator with the Smithsonian Museum of American history. Yeah, she did. A manager who says, "Well actually, you're not really that strong. You don't have a real strong technical background."
That was not particularly helpful. Or a person that I'm actually quite close with, a consultant, who remembered this story from his second grade, which he would have been about seven years old, was an art assignment. And he was trying to draw a picture of a hand that he had seen in a book. And he did it on very thin tissue-like paper we used to call carbon paper when we had old typewriters because he wanted to be able to easily erase and redraw something. And he finished it. Imagine being a little seven year old child and you've worked as hard as you could on this drawing of a hand and the teacher comes around and says ... And he shows it to the teacher very proudly. And she says, "You trace that from a book."
And he said, "No, I didn't."
She said, "Yes, you did."
You know something, he never tried to do anything for years in the way of art, for years. It devastated him. Now, this is someone who is artistic. He's a renowned photographer. He's an artist among many other things but he is an artist. He's had his photographs published but that kind of thing, saying something to someone like that or a manager saying, "Why do you want to go into field sales? Just wait your turn here."
And, "I had to wait until for my turn. Why don't you be more patient and wait your turn and you'll get a promotion? Don't be so ambitious."
Glenn: On and on like that. And one of the things that we learned from this, is that people develop coping skills for addressing negative behavior in their life. I won't go through all of them. I'll give you ... For example, one of the ones that is quite prominent, which is, "I'll show her. You think I can't go to college and study engineering. You don't think I'm smart enough. I'll show you. You don't think I will ever make it as a manager. I'll show you."
Many people take that negative influence as a challenge. Now, some people can't do that because the negative behavior comes from a parent or a boss. And so they figure out other coping strategies, which is, "Let me work around this person."
This happens very often to women in business, who are not respected by male managers. And so in one particular story, a woman was a human resources relationship manager with an IT department. And the director of IT had no regard for her and what she could do to support his organization. She was very often left off the email list of important announcements in the department. She wasn't invited to staff meetings but she figured a way because she went ... Instead of with him, to him and with him, she went directly to the employees and asked in what ways could she be helpful? And they were looking for help from human resources. And she provided the help and developed a reputation as somebody who you could depend on to be helpful. And as she told the story, 'I never gained his respect but I figured out a way to be successful anyway."
And I took that ... And many people told us similar stories, "I took what I experienced from him and when I became a senior manager and I had a staff reporting to me from people all over the world, I made sure I never was not inclusive when I had the opportunity to do that as well."
Bryan: Yeah. Self criticism can be tough but you can definitely turn it around into something that fuels you to work through it. I'm also curious, Glenn, so this is your 16th book or perhaps your 17th. You've written a lot of books about leadership and how do you stay so interested in one particular genre or area?
Glenn: Well actually, here's what happened. Actually, my specialty was teamwork and team building. And most of the previous ... Almost all of my previous books are on team building and organizational behavior. What happened is, I actually got inspired. I hate to go say something, that I had an epiphany but what happened, Bryan, is that a man who had been very important to me later in my career, had been a consultant in his organization, was in telecommunications for almost 20 years, doing a variety of organizational development activities with his organization. And that client consultant relationship morphed into a friendship. And then when he left the organization and I left the organization as a consultant, we remained friends and sadly ... Oh, about three years ago, he passed away and I received an invitation to attend a memorial for him. And as I was thinking about going and going to the event, I started to think about what a tremendous influence he was on my career. I still hadn't thought about writing a book about this. And I thought, "Wow, let me think about some of the things that he did."
Again, another very smart but quiet leader. Again, not charismatic but effective. Effective because I came ... He brought me in to build the teams in his organization. And then he said, "We have a lot of people that have customer contact and I want to do a customer service training. And I want you to do it."
I said, "Bill, I don't really know anything about customer service."
He said, "You'll learn."
Okay. And guess what, I learned.
Glenn: And I did customer service training.
Glenn: And then about a year or two later he said, "The corporate is going to come down with a business ethics class."
He said, "And I know I'm not going to like it because what I want are ... I want something tailored to our organization and what our people encounter. I want the examples and the role plays and the cases to be specific to our organization and our customer base and how we interact."
And I said, "Well, it sounds like something you want to get an attorney to do, business ethics. Sounds like it has a legal base."
He said, "You'll learn."
I said, "Okay."
And I did. And I developed a business ethics class that I [inaudible 00:29:39] ended up doing at a bunch of companies as well.
Glenn: And so he had this tremendous influence on me. And I will tell you a story that caps off this relationship with him. And he said to me, "Glenn, I gave your name to the president of the company because the leadership team wants to do an offsite team building. And I recommended you for the job."
Well, I said, "Wow, that's impressive. Thank you very much for that."
And I was a little bit nervous about it because I had never worked at that level of a corporation, I was mostly working at the business unit division department level. And so I made an appointment to go meet with them. And then I came back to Bill and I said, "Well, I have a meeting. Do you have any advice?"
And he said, "Yeah, don't fuck it up."
Bryan: That's good advice.
Glenn: I said, "Excuse me."
He said, "Yeah."
What was he saying to me, Bryan? He was saying, "I wouldn't have recommended you if I didn't think you could do the job. Stop whining and go doit."
I did and it turned out. And I called him up and told him that I ... I said, "Bill, guess what?"
And he said, "What?"
I said, "I didn't fuck it up."
Bryan: I like that.
Glenn: After going to this memorial, I thought, "Wow, I think this would be a great book about how people have a positive influence on other people. And it can be a game changer for them."
I came home, I called Michael and I said, "Here's what I'm thinking about doing. I'm thinking about writing a book on this."
And he said, "Well, I'd read that book."
Because he's very well read in management literature and Harvard business review. And he reads a lot" in that area. And he said, "I'd read that book."
I just blurted it out. I said, "Well, how'd you like to write it with me?"
He said, "I would love to."
And that's how we came to write this book.
Bryan: Yeah. [inaudible 00:31:50] write a book with yourself but I'm curious. Do you have a routine that enables you to write so many books, which are balanced out with your corporate career as well?
Glenn: Yes. Well, once I decide that I want to write a book and I'm ... Got to be excited about it and think that, "Wow, I think this would be really good."
When I was very busy and traveling a great deal, I would put every extra hour. I'd get up at six in the morning and write for two hours before I left for a client meeting. Or on the plane. Or in a hotel at night. Everywhere, I would get something done. I think you know this and I've looked at some of the things that you've written about. Make it a goal to write for two hours or to write a certain number of words during a period of time in order to move forward with the book and recognize that also ... I spent a lot of time thinking about this and working on this, which is at a certain point, you're going to be blocked. And not the old writer's block thing but just that, "I'm not sure how to approach that. I know what I want to do but I'm not sure how to approach it."
And so ... Because I've also read a little bit about the creative process. The whole idea of taking a break, it sounds simple. And it is actually simple, is that, "I need to take a break. Go get a cup of coffee. Read the newspaper. Go for a walk. Go to the gym. And then come back."
And it seems to free up my mind but if I try to plow through it and say, "Oh, my God. I've only written 500 words. I need to get to a thousand."
No, that doesn't work for me. Recognize that you can't do it now. You've got to just take a break and ...
Glenn: Think about it for a little bit and that's how my mind works. And I think that's ... From what I've read about the creative process, that's what other people do as well. Does that work for you?
Bryan: Yeah. There's a time for pushing through and making sure you write 500 words every day. And then there's a time for taking a break, particularly if you're creatively blocked.
Bryan: That does work for me as well. It's definitely good advice. Finally, where can people find out more information about you, Glenn, or your books or the new book?
Glenn: Well, we have a website. It has not gone live yet but it will be thepositiveinfluenceleader.com, thepositiveinfluenceleader.com. And it will be up shortly. We've got a placeholder on Amazon for the book, for taking pre-orders. Although, we're waiting for that to be updated and revised but people can always contact me at my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information. Glenn with two Ns. And of course, I'm also been posting on LinkedIn. Actually, a lot, good bit about positive influence, including a recent article about positive influence during a time of crisis but I had a question for you, Bryan. Can I ask you a question? Is that ...
Bryan: Sure. Of course. Yeah, go ahead. Yeah, yeah.
Glenn: Have you had a positive influence in your life? And who was that person and what did they do?
Bryan: Have I had a positive influence in my life? That is a good question. The writing is Doctor Robert McKee, I'd say was a positive influence.
Bryan: Not somebody I know personally. I attended one of his seminars and talked to him briefly at the end of the seminar. Well, basically, in his book story, he got me to rethink about the craft of writing and to consider how important stories are and not to be afraid to show some of your negative sides, even if you're writing nonfiction because that can help people relate with you more. And in fact, stories are more memorable than facts. And they're a stronger persuasion too. I guess if I had to go back further, there'll be some English teachers back when I was in school, who would have been an influence. And Roald Dahl, the children's author. When I was a child, that was the book that made me want to write in the first place.
Glenn: That's great. Yeah. That's a great thing. And you can see from your examples, how you ended up, from those particular examples, that you were inspired by certain people who were writers and you enjoyed the writing and also a particular type of writing, which I share. I love the use of stories. For example, when you asked me about positive influence, I answered with my own personal story about how it happened for me.
And that's the great thing about this particular book that I'm so proud of, are the stories in the book, the stories from our interviews but we also collected stories about famous people in business. Michael Bloomberg or famous entertainers and athletes and other people that had a great story to tell about being inspired. And so that's what I think makes it readable. I'm not a fan of books that are entirely a story, like a fable.
Glenn: I don't resonate with those. And I know ...
Bryan: It's a balancing act to get a story ...
Glenn: It's a combination of those two things, of stories ... And then what I tried to do was, "What are those stories mean? What are the implications of these stories for you, as the reader?"
If you don't do that, I don't think you're doing your job as a writer.
Bryan: Yeah, it should relate to the book's concept or controlling idea. That's actually something Robert McKee talks about in his workshop. Thanks very much for taking the time to talk to me today. And best of luck with the launch of your book.
Glenn: Thank you very much. I've enjoyed the conversation.
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