5 Surprising Truths About The Enneagram And Your Leadership Potential


So many leaders have asked me about the Enneagram.

And while I’m a little late to the Enneagram bandwagon, after reading The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile, I now totally get what the fuss is all about.

If you haven’t read the book, done the Enneagram test and don’t know your Enneagram number, here’s a link to the free test (‘m so sorry, this link is no longer active!) that will help you discover more about your natural personality type.

So…what’s the big deal about the Enneagram?

Well, like a Myer’s Brigg’s or Strengthfinders assessment, it helps you discover your natural personality type, which in the world of leadership, means your default approach to leadership (and life). It’s another key to self-awareness, but also to an awareness of how everyone else on your team (or personally, even in your family) is wired.

For convenience’s sake, here’s a list of the nine Enneagram personality types:

Type One – The Perfectionist

Type Two – The Helper

Type Three – The Performer

Type Four – The Romantic

Type Five – The Investigator

Type Six – The Loyalist

Type Seven – The Enthusiast

Type Eight – The Challenger

Type Nine – The Mediator

Again, if you don’t know your type, here’s a free 5-10 minute assessment that will help you discover it (our apologies – this link is no longer active!)

If you’re curious, it turns out I’m an Eight—a challenger (with a Seven-wing). But I almost scored as a One as well (a Perfectionist).  Funny, because most friends guessed me as a Three or a Seven.

Why does all of this matter? It’s simple.

Self-aware leaders are always better leaders, and the Enneagram will help you see yourself as others experience you.

Example: Since I was a teenager, people have told me they find me intimidating, and that when I walk into a room I tend to take it over, which has always puzzled me. It’s not a question of losing my temper or anything. In fact, often I don’t even have to say a word. Apparently, I just need to stand there and say hello and people feel intimidated or like I’m the one in control. Meanwhile, I see myself as pretty average, friendly and normal.

Guess what? That’s a classic characteristic of an Eight, and there are strategies to help you overcome being intimidating.

Which, of course, really helps if you’re trying to lead and motivate a team, let alone stay happily married and raise kids.

So what surprised me most about the Enneagram?

Almost no one I talked to about the Enneagram mentioned the very real spiritual or emotional health component of the Enneagram; the conversation was more of a numbers game (I’m a 7…are you a 3)?

And yet as I’ve worked through the material, it seems to me that your spiritual and emotional health determine far more than you think.

In fact, if you want to grow, your level of health the key. Every Enneagram has healthy and unhealthy manifestations. Cron and Stabile do a great job fleshing this out in their book, but it seems to be missing in much of the dialogue. To me, it was the most impactful part of my learning around the Enneagram.

To that end, here are 5 surprising truths about the Enneagram and your true leadership potential.

Self-aware leaders are always better leaders. Click To Tweet

1. Your Emotional/Spiritual Health is the difference between awesome and awful

Each Enneagram Type (including yours) can manifest itself in three principal ways: healthy, average or unhealthy.

So why does the matter?

Simple: The difference between an emotionally and spiritually healthy leader and an unhealthy one is the difference between awesome and awful.

The difference between an emotionally and spiritually healthy leader and an unhealthy one is the difference between awesome and awful. Click To Tweet

Want to know how big a difference?

Martin Luther King Jr. and Josef Stalin were both Eights.

Same Enneagram. Completely different legacies.

The difference? Their emotional and spiritual health.

You can fight for freedom, inspire a nation, and leverage your influence for good or you can live completely paranoid and order the death of millions (some think Stalin may have killed as many or people than Hitler).

As I’ve looked back on my leadership journey (a story I tell in my new book, Didn’t See It Coming), I write about battling against cynicism, pride, compromise and so many other challenges that stunt your growth as a leader or take you out as a leader.

As I’ve become a more emotionally and spiritually healthy leader over the years (and it’s a life-long journey), the upside of my Eight is leveraged far more than it was when I was a younger a less spiritually and emotionally mature Eight.

And I realize now more than ever that when people experience the unhealthy side of my Eight (being too blunt, aggressive, angry and domineering, for example), it’s a sign I need to immediately work on my spiritual and emotional health.

The true potential you have as a leader is not determined by your gifting, it’s determined by your health.

So get healthy.

The true potential you have as a leader is not determined by your gifting, it's determined by your health. Click To Tweet

2. Underneath Your Wiring is a Wound

There is no perfect personality type. People love Sevens (they’re the life of every party) and Threes (amazing public speakers and CEOs) and Twos (who doesn’t love the person who always helps?), but underneath every wiring is a wound.

Christian leaders shouldn’t be surprised by this at all, because somehow everything we do in this life is impacted by sin. It’s why the helper becomes the enabler and can become so passive aggressive. It’s why Threes feel so insecure and might lie or deceive to make others believe they’re better than they are. It’s why Sevens will do almost anything to avoid pain and are often prone to addictions and self-pity.

The point is that while we all have wounds, we all have the potential for healing as well. And those wounds, the Enneagram suggests, drive our behaviour out of fear, anger or shame (a powerful and I think accurate insight).

Cron and Stabile wisely spend a bit of time going over the childhood of every personality type and offering some ideas on what may have happened to take kids with a particular personality type in unhealthy directions. It’s less weird than it sounds, and it’s very helpful.

A lot of Eights grew up too soon or were bullied as kids (took me back to being a red-headed kid and trying to defend myself at school…something I hadn’t thought of before), or a Perfectionist One who tried to grow up as a role model kid terrified of making a mistake. Or a Five who grew up with distant parents and retreated into their thoughts as an escape.

That stuff still impacts you…you know that right?

It’s why you power up when you feel threatened, or shrink into a corner and want to die when someone criticizes your work.  Or why you just emotionally disengage from people.

All of which impacts your life and leadership.

Here’s what I’ve learned: if you don’t know the source of your unhealthy behaviour, you can’t correct your course.

So get to the source. Understanding your wound is the first step to overcoming it.

if you don't know the source of your unhealthy behaviour, you can't correct your course. So get to the source. Understanding your wound is the first step to healing it. Click To Tweet

3. You won’t get healthy by accident

It would be amazing if you woke up every morning automatically better than the day before.

I’m still waiting for that day.

The truth is that the path to emotional and spiritual health is an intentional one.

Healthy leadership doesn’t happen by accident; unhealthy leadership does.

Healthy leadership doesn't happen by accident; unhealthy leadership does. Click To Tweet

The real power in the Enneagram is not knowing your number or the numbers of the people you work with or live with (sure, that’s helpful). The real potential is that it helps you see how God created out, and how life has sapped some of that potential or marred your soul.

Understanding how you negatively impact others, confessing your sin, addressing it, and taking steps to get healthier will begin to unlock your potential in life and leadership.

Where does it start? For me, it started in realizing and then confessing my sins as a human and as a leader.

Leaders, you’ll never address what you don’t confess.

Leaders, you'll never address what you don't confess. Click To Tweet

4. Healthy leaders create healthy organizations. Unhealthy leaders create unhealthy ones.

Heres’ the simple truth: healthy leaders create healthy organizations.

If an organization’s leadership is healthy at the top, that health will most often spread through the entire organization. But the same is for the unhealthy leaders and teams; eventually, the entire body gets infected.

The health of an organization’s leader determines the health of the organization. I know you probably think it’s more complicated than that, but it’s really not.

Whether you lead a tiny startup or a massive movement, here’s what I’ve discovered: healthy at the top, healthy at the bottom. Unhealthy at the top, unhealthy at the bottom.

So, if you’ve been leading your organization for over two years and you think it’s unhealthy, look in the mirror. You likely just found the source of that unhealth.

Healthy leaders create healthy organizations.  Unhealthy leaders create unhealthy ones.

Healthy leaders create healthy organizations. Unhealthy leaders create unhealthy ones. Click To Tweet

5. Self-Awareness Is Spiritual Awareness

There’s a remarkably close link between self-awareness and awareness of God.

John Calvin began his treatise on Christianity and religion with this line: “Without knowledge of self there is no knowledge of God.”

It’s fascinating that a man known for his theology (his thinking would later be called Calvinism) began with self-knowledge. Calvin believed that those who don’t know themselves will never fully know God.

The point Calvin was making runs deep. Self-knowledge will take you into profoundly meaningful places.

When you are intimately in touch with your own emotions and inclinations and deeply knowledgeable about the ways of God.

Self-aware people have a conscious knowledge of their motives, desires, feelings, and character. They are also in tune with how their actions affect others. To that end, smart leaders are in touch with their emotions because everyone else is whether you are or not.

Calvin was right. It’s hard to know God if you don’t know yourself. And it’s hard to truly know yourself if you don’t know God.

You can’t be spiritually mature and be emotionally immature.

It's hard to truly know God if you don't know yourself. You can't be spiritually mature and be emotionally immature. Click To Tweet

You know how you know this? The people who claim the greatest level of spiritual maturity but have the lowest level of self-awareness end up leading very unhealthy churches and organizations, destroying the people they work with and making you swear off religion forever.

Cron and Stabile quote Augustine in the book: Grant Lord that I may know myself, that I may know thee.

Leaders who are afraid of themselves are also afraid of God.

Think about that for a while…

Leaders who are afraid of themselves are also afraid of God. Click To Tweet

How Do You Get Healthy?

While the journey to health may not be easy, it’s worth it.

To get started, here’s what I’d do:

  • Admit you have a problem.
  • Get someone else on your side: a good Christian counsellor, a spiritual director (or both).
  • Enlist a few close friends who want to see you get better to walk with you along the way.

My latest book, Didn’t See It Coming: Overcoming the Seven Greatest Challenges No One Expects And Everyone Experiences has helped thousands of leaders get healthier in their leadership. It will help you tackle cynicism, pride, burnout, and even the emptiness you feel as a leader.

You can get it anywhere books are sold or order a copy right now, here.

What Insights Would You Add?

What else are you learning about the Enneagram and health?

Scroll down and leave a comment!

5 Surprising Truths About The Enneagram And Your Leadership Potential


  1. Nikki on October 18, 2019 at 10:12 am

    Even if you aren’t a leader per se, this article is very insightful. All of us are leaders in our own ways and could all use this information to realize we always have room for growth

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 18, 2019 at 1:50 pm

      Glad to help!

  2. susant Ranabhat on September 1, 2019 at 11:05 pm

    Great insights here. Really appreciated this post. I like how you link self-awareness to knowing God. I’d also add that to love your neighbor as yourself you’ve got to learn how to love yourself first, and that takes knowing yourself as you mentioned.

  3. S N on August 16, 2019 at 10:42 am

    Within your 8 wiring were there times you felt you were in the wrong seat on the bus? If so what did you do and how did you determine if it was a healthy view or unhealthy view of your self, strengths or something else?

  4. Heather Bell-Williams on July 31, 2019 at 9:05 am

    Oh man ….a friend introduced me to the book Carey mentions above – I’ve also been reading “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” and both talk about the negative impact I have as a leader on my staff. I was shocked – I don’t loose control of my emotions or do command and control stuff – I’m learning that as an eight I have high expectations and a strong sense of urgency and that I’m unknowingly communicating to be staff that they can’t measure up – ugh!!

    • Carey Nieuwhof on July 31, 2019 at 1:28 pm


      So glad you are diving into this! Your team will be so grateful.

  5. jayino on April 21, 2019 at 3:48 am

    Thanks for your good website and information !

  6. Stephen Canfield on January 30, 2019 at 10:55 am

    I stumbled upon the Enneagram in 2003. Ever since I had been studying and waiting for everyone to jump on board. It has been the single most effective tool (apart from the Bible) I have used to help lead, motivate, and unite people. There have been times when others thought I had the gift of prophecy because of the depth of insight I was able to speak into their lives…nope, just insights from the Enneagram!

    I think it took a really long time for people to see the merits of this tool because of the origins of its discovery…it was steeped in spiritual mysticism and quasi cult like practice by the original guy who discovered it, a pseudo scientist Oscar Ichazo. Unfortunately this origin story slowed its adoption, but I knew that once people saw the real world consistency, accuracy, and utility and moved past its mode of discovery they would latch on to it. I think the next big hurdle, and possibly most important, is for the scientific community to start research and use it for professional psychological treatment where I know the insights and knowledge contained will be of incalculable worth.

    I think the biggest challenge most people face when they are introduced to this tool is mistyping. This can happen with any of the 9 types, and more frequently with certain types (9’s, 4’s, 3’s). It often leads to confusion and distrust about the veracity of the insights the Enneagram offers and keeps people from fully immersing themselves into the material. That is why being typed by a self-diagnostic tool can be misleading and finding an expert who can help you process your internal motivations can be crucial.

  7. Charlie Wallace on January 3, 2019 at 4:37 pm

    I used to be really big into the enneagram and MBTI. I came across a group called Objective Personality. They use scientific methods to objectively find a person’s true type. One of their main assertions is that we cannot type ourselves. When it comes to self typing, we are often intrigued by those things that challenge us or are a little mysterious to us. When we self type, we gloss over those things we are and choose, instead, those things we want to be. For instance, I used to score ENTP on the Myers-Briggs assessment but this group objectively typed me as ESTJ.

    All that being said, if you really want to know your personalty type, have those that know you the best type you. They see though all the peacocking. Then…real growth can happen. Those that know us us best can tell us where we struggle and can see it better than we can.

    • Lamb baker on January 4, 2019 at 9:39 am

      Thanks Charlie
      For bringing a scientific perspective ( Objective Personality)
      to my very similar comments ( posted Dec 25)
      Thanks for the back up 🙂
      And here’s to discovering all tha tGod has created/designed/intended us to be

      • Charlie Wallace on January 4, 2019 at 9:51 am

        The truth that self-assessment is inherently flawed is such an obvious conclusion we miss it!

        Just like when we hear ourselves on a recording or see ourselves on a recording…we think, “I sound like that?” Yes…you do.

  8. Jim Herzberg on January 2, 2019 at 8:29 am

    Link to test no longer valid.
    Do you have another test/site you’d recommend?

    • char b on July 18, 2019 at 2:21 pm

      same comment – different day – links to test (both links) are dead ends – any clues?

  9. Lamb baker on December 25, 2018 at 3:49 am

    First off: to you Carey, and to all who read this a very Merry Christmas , it’s now 2:59 am Christmas Day and once again, God, in His wonderful sense of humour, has awakened me ( at least I’ll blame Him – could have been the multiple gingerbread cookies at the post Christmas Eve service social) anyways – here’s my two cents worth….self assessment is inherently flawed…- there I’ve said it 🙂
    Ok now to pull rank ( so to speak ) it’s thirty years since I finished my first degree – having worked amongst ’emotionally disturbed children’ ( and yes, I could be referring to some of my professors ) until I became one :)… twenty years since I completed a Mastes of Theology and postgrad certification in counseling …
    I’ve encountered many assessment tools over the years (look up ” Who the Poo are You”… It’s a fun one) Enneagram among them… And each had its strengths and weaknesses…but I digress – more to the point as Christ followers living Chirst focused lives we understand inherently that our growth towards Christ likeness entailes an inherent surrender to our own will/insights/perspective ( yes I know …please be patient – the point of all of this is drawing close – I hope – I’m supposed to be watching grandkids open presents at 7 am ) since my premise is that self assessment is inherently flawed then we need another perspective ( most importantly, Gods – but since the reception on my God Channel often has a lot of static – I need others who are also listening to tune in with me ( you know – in the multitude of counsellors thing) IF those who are closest to me – my ministry team/spouse/kids were to take the test with me in mind and the results are different from my own ‘flawed’ assessment then I need to recognize there is a disconnect between how I see myself and the image I project – the ‘mirror of others’ ( and no you can’t steal that- it’s my next book title) is a far better reflection of the true you than any other ( including your own…)
    So Carey from someone who has watched you journey through the three charges/the school years/the Trinty explosion ( growth and end)..who attended Connexus more times that first year than you …from one who has seen your brilliance, giftedness, and ( ok enough suckin up – you get the point)
    Get Tony to do the enneagram- that amazing number one son of yours – your team – get them to answer the questions – with you in mind – and take it as the voice of God speaking your truth ….Balance how you see yourself with how you are seen, bring these together and you will get ‘ a better picture of the true you’ ( sub-title on the cover LOL)
    well that about covers it – I’d love some feed back ( but then it might just crush -or stoke my fragile ego…)
    Blessings all
    Merry Christmas
    and to you Carey – Well -not yet done – Good and Faithfull….yeah you know the rest 🙂

  10. Christine Kreisher on December 20, 2018 at 11:36 pm

    “Leaders, you’ll never address what you don’t confess.“. This is so good, Carey! One of the greatest gifts I ever gave myself was when I became self aware (still working on it) and confessed my junk, then gave the people around me permission to call it out when they see it. Enneagram, and tools like it, give teams a common language to use that is disarming and empowering!
    I firmly believe that a healthy team is marked by trust and mutual accountability. You know you’re doing something right when the people you lead feel safe enough to shine a spotlight on your blind spots. What a gift!
    Appreciate you so much, Carey!
    Merry Christmas!!!

  11. Aaron Bubert on December 20, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Great insights here. Really appreciated this post. I like how you link self-awareness to knowing God. I’d also add that to love your neighbor as yourself you’ve got to learn how to love yourself first, and that takes knowing yourself as you mentioned.

  12. Jeff McCord on December 19, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    Great to hear about your interest in the Enneagram. My wife and I are the co-founders of Your Enneagram Coach. We have been using the Enneagram to bring the gospel to individuals, marriages, and organizations for 18 years with awesome results. If you are ever looking for someone who approaches the Enneagram from a distinctly Christ Centered perspective, we would love to talk.

    • Tom May on December 20, 2018 at 9:50 am

      re: Jeff McCord
      I’ve used the Enneagram for a couple of years and have found it helpful. I recently found the website that Jeff and his wife Beth offer. It is VERY helpful as there is a strong gospel centered focus to the Enneagram. I have numerous enneagram books and some are void of this important “god centered” perspective.

    • Austin Nightengale on December 20, 2018 at 12:20 pm

      Hey, my name is Austin, I work as a volunteer coordinator at a missions camp. I’ve been looking into the Enneagram as a potential tool to start staff training with. I’d be curious to hear any suggestions or tips you may have on the topic.

    • Esther Littlefield on December 21, 2018 at 7:58 am

      Yes! I LOVED having Beth on my podcast and it was such a great conversation about how the Enneagram can help us build healthy relationships. I love how you guys approach the Enneagram with a gospel focus.

  13. Debbie Blanford on December 19, 2018 at 12:22 pm

    I spent time completing the Ennegram questionnaire thru post to facebook. As soon as I finished the last of the 60 questions, the application exited and I received NO RESULT. Very aggravating. Was this what you planned to do?!! I won’t bother following your links in the future.

    • Ragnar Gunnarsson on December 20, 2018 at 5:26 am

      The best way is to read and understand all types to understand your self. Answer questions and think about your self around 20 or in the thirties. Think about yourself at home not the one you are at work. And there are little benefits just to know your number, you need to understand yourself, what lies behind and has made you the person you are. By understanding yourself and others the foundation is laid for spiritual and personal growth.
      What can confuse is the so called “wings”, we tend to lean to one of the numbers of our side, and to go to other numbers in stress and wellbeing. So for me being a 9, my extra numbers are 8 (wing), 6 (stressed) and 3 (wellbeing).

    • Ryan on December 20, 2018 at 9:45 am

      I would suggest checking out https://www.yourenneagramcoach.com/. We have been working with Beth McCord and she does an excellent job of working with the Enneagram from a Christian perspective. I would highly recommend her and her organization.

  14. John Maloney on December 19, 2018 at 12:06 pm

    Very wisely written Carey. As an 8 myself who is in his 60’s, the enneagram -when ready to listen, offered me a roadmap for positive change and to catch myself when I impact on self and others. Validated my progress but also encouraged the movement into the shadow side of my personality that I feared and was ignorant about but which was healthy for me. All types have that journey to climb up the ladder of development.

    I have heard that 8’s need “2 by 4 therapy” (e.g. a painful divorce) to look within. There is more motivation to do that when you are in emotional pain. You face than run. The enneagram has a very personal way of helping if you listen to a panel of your type, read, process with another and acknowledge that you have some work to do on yourself. Being vigilant.

    I have heard that 8’s have the highest walls of all the types set up in childhood. The need to be strong and not show weakness or vulnerability is pretty well set and does not come down easily.

    It is a joy to find “innocence” more as I age (the virtue of my type). Contain “lust” the psychological passion”. It is a long journey. Well worth it. Thank you to the Enneagram and finding my type correctly for guiding me along the way. So many wonderful resources- Riso and Hudson, Susan Stabile, Helen Palmer and David Daniels….to name a few.

  15. Isaiah on December 18, 2018 at 1:49 pm

    Thank you so much for your insight, vulnerability, and willingness to challenge others. Might I add, I believe that through your vulnerability, you opened the door to challenge others. In other words, I know you have challenged yourself before challenging with others. You lead from a place of self-awareness and I love how you express that this is essential to spiritual growth and maturity. There is so much to digest in this post. As a young leader, I believe there is great wisdom for me to apply to my life and leadership. Thanks again!

  16. Ella on December 18, 2018 at 3:18 am

    I was expecting from the title “5 Surprising Truths About the Enneagram and Your Leadership Potential” was that it would go through each Ennagram type, and their leadership styles and pitfalls. What I read was a personal reflection… of a Christian. Absolutely nothing was useful, and everything was disappointing. Stay on topic next time.

  17. Eric Ford on December 17, 2018 at 11:56 pm

    I’ve recently began studying the Enneagram a few years ago after also being in full-time Christian ministry. I’ve found it to be extremely helpful, especially for leaders. Coming to understand your wounding and your behavior patterns you develop growing up shapes much of who you present to the world – your personality – and at the same time reveals often a recurring theme for how much you need God.

    I appreciate, Carey, you touching on the need for confession in this whole process of self-awareness. Also, I’ve heard you mention wanting to interview Ian Cron! Can’t wait to hear that one. His Typology podcast and yours are two of my go-to listens. Thanks for including this soul-searching post among your other themes of interest here for leaders.

    • Dr. Dapo Sobomehin on December 20, 2018 at 2:57 pm

      get excited quickly when I hear the word GOD, at any where, at any place. So talk to me in the name of our LORD-Jesus Christ. He brought the truth to us so we may live life of everlasting. In other words, you and I are no junks. Too many of our people in our America-at the world treat themselves as junks. No-you’re no a junk. You’re a wonderful being-a child of the creator. You’re made by GOD created in love and truth. You can be proud of being the son, daughter of Almighty–creator of our world and earth. Please you’re given the power to be proud. Not cocky–not afraid of being proud to claim you’re a great being. Love you.

  18. Gay Tucciarone on December 17, 2018 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful insights! Church leadership I was involved in 10 years ago did Enneagrams on the entire staff (before it was cool !) as part of an 8 week spiritual development study. I’m hopeful everyone who discovers their “number” also takes to heart the spiritual and emotional healing that can follow.

  19. Ragnar Gunnarsson on December 17, 2018 at 9:58 am

    Thanks for sharing, I and my family have benefited a lot from the enneagram, both by this book, The Road between us, books by Richard Rohr and others, like Marie Bernéli who looks at our image of God from the different personalities and our brokenness, repentance and healing. Sorry, it is I think only in Swedish. I also recommend Beth McCord, yourenneagramcoach on Instagram, making this wisdom accessible and simple with clear Christian approach – to help you grow towards the likeness of Christ..
    By the way, just from seeing your activities and reading your stuff, whithout knowing you, I bet on 1, 3 or 8…

    • Beth McCord on December 19, 2018 at 1:53 pm

      Thank you, Ragnar Gunnarsson, for your kind words. I am glad you have found my Christian approach to the Enneagram helpful. I also take people through their type in a deeper way though my coaching series Discover, Explore, and Become. On my website, people can get their very own coaching course for their type called Exploring You. It accelerates growth from a biblical perspective using the Enneagram. http://www.yourenneagramcoach.com
      Thank you!

      • Ragnar Gunnarsson on December 20, 2018 at 5:19 am

        Thanks Beth, yes I have checked the site and have been connected through Instagram. Like your simple clear way of presenting the wisdom of Enneagram. The real benefit of the Enneagram is repentance, spiritual and personal growth.
        I am a 9, my wife a 1 – so she had to write a book to present the Enneagram in Icelandic… using wisdom from different authors and experience from conceiling. If you are travelling we are not that far away from North-America…

  20. Mike on December 17, 2018 at 9:29 am

    Thanks for challenging us Carey. As a guy who never had an introspective thought for the first 25 years of his life, I am trying to catch up. Don’t know of many places where we are talking about how we impact our followers. As a leader, thanks for putting this in front of us!

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