Triple Crown Leadership

Triple Crown Leadership

Tag Archives: Ethics

The Ethical Challenges Faced by Leaders

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  Image credit: Public Domain  “Divorced from ethics, leadership is reduced to management and politics to mere technique.” -James MacGregor Burns We all face ethical challenges and dilemmas, and all the more so if we lead. Think how you would act in the following scenarios: You give the cashier a $10 bill, and she gives you change for a $20. You realize it in the parking lot. Do you trudge back and give her the money? You incur some personal charges on a business trip. Do you fudge some expenses to help cover these costs? Do you overestimate your charitable contributions on your tax form to minimize your reported profit and taxes. Your boss asks you to cover for him with some false excuse while he is absent from work   …Continue Reading


The Dangers of Toxic Micro-Cultures

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Image credit: Painting by Leah Saulnier www.paintingmaniac.com   Does your organization have some toxic micro-cultures? If so, you ignore them at your peril. Much is written these days about the importance of culture in boosting an organization’s success. Strategy is important, as are talent, business models, innovation, and more. But culture, “how we do things here,” as we like to define it, can be the trump card, because it permeates everything in an organization. Culture is what people do when the boss is not around. Wise leaders craft the culture purposefully and make the desired behaviors explicit and clear. Culture can have a big impact on whether people act ethically, honorably, and responsibly. For example, when direct supervisors were observed to behave unethically: 42% of employees felt pressure to behave   …Continue Reading


Why Boards Should Pay Attention to Corporate Culture

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“Culture isn’t just one aspect of the game—it is the game.” Lou Gerstner, former IBM CEO   Most boards think “culture” is the soft, fuzzy stuff that some CEO’s or HR leaders may pay attention to. These boards are sadly wrong. A high-performing, ethical culture can be a great source of competitive advantage. An organization’s culture is “how we do things here”—how people behave in their relationships. Business is a set of relationships, and healthy relationships are built in trust. Organizations with a toxic culture pay a heavy price in lost revenue, damaged reputation, lawsuits, and more. By contrast, organizations with a high-performance, trust-based culture (e.g., Southwest Airlines, Zappos.com, and Patagonia) enjoy a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle with their stakeholders. They build trust and employees unleash more of their talents and   …Continue Reading


A New, Overarching Goal for Boards

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One of the painful results of boards embracing the goal to “maximize shareholder value” is shown in the Edelman Trust Barometer: Only 53% of respondents trust business Only 18% of the general population trust business leaders to tell the truth The overarching goal for corporate boards should not be to maximize shareholder value. Instead, boards should set as their primary objective to: Build an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization. Excellent means achieving extraordinary results for customers, employees, and shareholders. Ethical means achieving those results the right way, with integrity, not cutting ethical corners. Enduring means achieving those results sustainably, being conscious of the firm’s impact on the planet, and acting responsibly to ensure precious resources are not wasted. Enduring also means acting sustainably inside the firm, not burning people out, nor   …Continue Reading


Blame Boards For Excessive CEO Pay and Perks

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Compensation levels for CEO’s and C-suite execs took off like a rocket starting in the 1980’s. It was caused by the dual whammy of Milton Friedman’s “maximize shareholder value” maxim and the advent of the “leveraged buyout” focus from private equity firms. I should know because I participated in those phenomena as a CEO. The stock options I was granted during those years far exceeded the norms of option grants in prior decades as boards tried to “align” management’s financial interests with those of shareholders. There is nothing inherently wrong in private equity, stock options, in divesting unproductive assets, or delayering bloated companies. Those undertakings are a healthy part of marketplace adjustments, as long as they are done ethically and respectfully. But the C-suite financial gains that boards approved to,   …Continue Reading


The Triple Crown of Leadership

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  The sports world is abuzz with excitement. We may have our first Triple Crown winner since 1978, when Affirmed captured what has been called “the most elusive championship” in all of sports. California Chrome is poised to accomplish this incredible feat on June 7 if he can win at Belmont Park. This unlikely horse, bred in California for only $10,000 with a 77-year-old trainer, has won his last six races. Since 1875, only eleven thoroughbreds have won the Triple Crown, including such iconic names as War Admiral, Whirlaway, Citation, Seattle Slew, and of course, perhaps the best of them all, Secretariat. Pictured above, Secretariat won the final leg of the Triple Crown, the Belmont Stakes, in 1973 by a world-record 31 lengths in a time that has yet to   …Continue Reading


Rationalizations that Derail Leadership

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“The softest pillow is a clear conscience.” Narayana Murthy, Co-founder and former CEO, Infosys   Our ability to rationalize our behavior is astonishing. And dangerous. Basically, we all have a good sense of what’s right or wrong, but we have an inherent ability to talk ourselves into believing that something that’s wrong is really okay. We’re all good at this self-deception, especially when under pressure. Leadership is a moral activity. When done well, it raises people up and brings out their best. Successful ends do not justify unethical means. The journey and the destination must both be based on moral principles if we are to enlist people to follow us willingly from their hearts. Of course we can’t change human nature, and some people are of weak character, easily seduced   …Continue Reading


The Role of Values for Leaders & Organizations

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 Our colleague in leadership,  Harvey Kaufman, edited down one of his longer pieces on alignment so that we might share some of his wisdom and insight here.   A few years ago, I attended a Corporate Social Responsibility conference.  As you might expect (although I didn’t) a major focus of the conference was how to market social responsibility efforts to attract business.  The case for simply “doing good” as a reflection of an organization’s core values was absent from our discussions.  This made me think about the role of values in organizations and why it is important for companies to practice their values in day-to-day interactions with employees and customers.   While there were companies who employed them effectively earlier, core values emerged as an organizational mainstay in the 1970s.  They followed the social   …Continue Reading


Three Responsibilities of Great Leadership

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Great leadership has many responsibilities: Safeguarding your colleagues Serving your stakeholders Making tough decisions Planning for succession And much more However, certain responsibilities are critically important and do not get the time and attention they deserve. Here are three. 1) Commit to the triple crown quest of building an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization. The primary message of Triple Crown Leadership is this: make building an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization the overarching priority of your organization. Excellent means achieving exceptional results that have significant, positive impacts on stakeholders: customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers, and communities. Ethical means acting with integrity, even when it’s costly or hard, always paying attention to how the results are achieved. Enduring means standing the test of time and operating sustainability when it comes to people and   …Continue Reading


Moral Leadership: Not Just For The Pulpit

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Guest Blog by Dr. Daniel Sweeney Most responsible students of leadership recognize the importance of organizational leadership, strategic leadership, project leadership, and other types of leadership in business organizations. But moral leadership in the workplace? That seems a bit ethereal. I would suggest moral leadership is at the core of all leadership. Moral leadership is about the stuff that is not written down anywhere. It might even not be talked about openly among the executives of the organization. Moral leadership is not about policy; it’s not about compliance; it’s not about mission statements or values statements–but it impacts all these. Moral leadership is important when people have to deal with situations no one ever expected to arise. Moral leadership is “doing the right thing” in public based on one’s personal   …Continue Reading


Top 10 Triple Crown Leadership Blogs

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 Our book, Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations, just turned one year old! In celebration of this happy event, we are sending out a special edition newsletter featuring our top ten blogs over the past year.      TOP 10 LEADERSHIP BLOGS: 1: The Glorification of BusyWe’re all busy. There’s nothing wrong with hard work. Here’s the problem: glorifying busy. Busy is the new sexy. The viral Internet meme—“stop the glorification of busy”—has hit a nerve with people far and wide lately. …Continue Reading 2: Are Leaders Born or Made?Many people believe that leaders are born, not made. We disagree. We believe leadership skills can be learned through experience, dialogue, role modeling, feedback, coaching, mentoring, and more.  …Continue Reading 3: 10 Leadership Myths and Half-TruthsMany leaders operate from half-truths or outright misconceptions about leadership, often   …Continue Reading


Ethical Decision-Making: Simple Tests

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Photo: iStock   When it comes to ethical challenges, we are all tested at some point. Leaders are tested most when they are under duress. Many leaders are ill-equipped to navigate the ethical minefields awaiting them in the swirl of fast-changing competitive markets and new technologies. Drawing insights from terrific books like Ethics (for the Real World), by Ronald Howard and Clinton Korver, and Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, by Gus Lee with Diane Elliott-Lee, here are some examples of simple tests that leaders can take before making ethical decisions:  Mirror Test. Imagine making the decision and then look at yourself in the mirror. How do you feel? What do you see in your eyes? Does it trigger alarm bells, violate your principles, or summon a guilty conscience? Front Page Test. Imagine   …Continue Reading


Ethical Pitfalls—You Will Be Tested

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Photo: iStock   No matter where you work or live, when it comes to ethics one thing is clear: you will be tested. Ethical pitfalls are all around us. Often you stumble upon them suddenly. Your ethics are tested most when you are under duress (with stress, pressure, or fear). Here is a partial list of what you’re up against: If you work in the world of business… Are you under pressure to withhold damaging information? Lowballing estimates in order to increase the chances of getting an order? “Cooking the books” to deceive analysts or investors? Paying bribes in markets where that is common or expected, reasoning that you must “pay to play”? Pulling sales from the next quarter to meet your targets for this one? Posing as a customer   …Continue Reading


What to Do If You Work For a Jerk

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  So your boss is a jerk.  What to do? Of course, how to approach it depends on the severity of the situation, but here are some tips: 1. Go Lean. You may have to make a change, so you need money in the bank. That’s not tapping into your 401k or IRA. You need six to twelve months of basic living expenses in a liquid account. Cut down on discretionary expenses (lunches and dinners out, subscriptions, etc.) and delay new purchases (new tablet, TV, etc.). There are few things worse than having to stay in a toxic situation because you can’t afford to leave. (Note that many people use this as an excuse to avoid dealing with tough issues, even though they could make it work.) By going lean,   …Continue Reading


Bending the Focus of a Company

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Interview with Harvey Wagner Former CEO, Quovadx Leaders Speak Series Harvey A. Wagner was the turnaround CEO of Quovadx from 2004 through 2007. Quovadx was a $100 million, NASDAQ-traded software and services company with offices in the U.S. and Europe as well as some outsourced R&D in China. Customers were in the hospital and telecommunications markets as well as large financial institutions. The company was accused of accounting improprieties, went into a tailspin, and Wagner, ultimately, was asked by the board to turn it around. Quovadx merged with a subsidiary of Battery Ventures in 2007. Wagner is currently the managing principal of H.A. Wagner Group LLC, a strategic and business consulting firm. Previously, he served as a CFO or CEO of numerous firms, including Caregiver Services, Mirant Corporation, Optio Software, PaySys International,   …Continue Reading


Value and Values

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Interview with Chip Baird Founder and Managing Director, North Castle Partners Leaders Speak Series North Castle Partners is a leading private equity firm headquartered in Greenwich, Connecticut, committed to creating extraordinary value for its companies, employees, investors, and communities.  Charles (Chip) Baird, Jr., North Castle’s Managing Director, founded the firm in 1997. From 1989 to 1997, Baird served as a Managing Director of AEA Investors LLC. From 1978 to 1989, Baird was Executive Vice President at Bain & Company, an international consulting firm. From 1975 to 1977, he worked at The First Boston Corporation. Chip received an A.B. from Harvard College and an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. Here are excerpts of our interview with Chip Baird for Triple Crown Leadership: What is North Castle Partners’ approach to private equity? Baird: North   …Continue Reading


Sorry, Tiger, Winning Does Not Take Care of Everything

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The latest online ad from Nike shows a photo of Tiger Woods with the text, “Winning takes care of everything.” The phrase has long been used by Woods, and he recently regained his #1 ranking in golf after suffering through headlines in 2010 about his extramarital affairs.  Woods’ behavior and infidelity were appalling, but our focus here is not on whether his current win streak redeems him. Some will forgive and forget; others will not.  Our point is that the message of “winning takes care of everything” is both wrong and dangerous. It fits in a long strain of similar quotations, including one of the most common sports sayings: “Winning isn’t everything. It is the only thing.”  Nike dropped biker Lance Armstrong from its sponsorship lineup after the doping scandal.   …Continue Reading


What’s So Hard About Ethics?

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Why are ethical breakdowns in organizations so common? Why do so many good people make bad decisions?  Look at the “wall of shame” of organizations abusing trust recently: AIG, Barclays, Bear Stearns, BP, Countrywide Financial, Galleon Group, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, ING, Johnson & Johnson, Lehman Brothers, MF Global, Standard Chartered, Walmart, and many more.  It’s not just business, by the way. Look at the doping scandal in cycling (and baseball). Look at Penn State University, the Boy Scouts, and the Catholic Church. Look at governments around the world, from India and Italy to China, Russia, and Venezuela. And there is no shortage of scandals in Washington, D.C.  Look back a little and witness the stock options backdating scandal, then a little further to Arthur Anderson, Enron, MCI Worldcom, Global Crossing,   …Continue Reading


Leaders Own Up

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What do Richard Nixon, Bill Clinton, Lance Armstrong, and Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o have in common?  They didn’t own up; they tried to cover up.  In case you missed it, Manti Te’o is the All-American, star linebacker on Notre Dame’s football team, who was in the running this past year for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award. Over an extended period, Te’o spoke of many heart-warming and heart-wrenching things in his life, including the death of his grandmother and a relationship he had with a girlfriend who was in a car accident, then suffered from leukemia and ultimately died, inspiring Te’o to more tackles on the field.  Problem was, the “girlfriend” didn’t exist.  Notre Dame carries the story that Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax,   …Continue Reading


A Tireless Focus on Excellence

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Interview with Steven Rothstein President, Perkins School for the Blind Leaders Speak Series  Founded in 1829, Perkins School for the Blind operates in more than sixty countries with revenue of over $50 million. It offers free audio, Braille and large print books, and hundreds of newspapers by phone. The operations are complex, including a school, early intervention program, library, teacher training initiatives, publishing house, manufacturing division, technology division, and special services for the elderly. Marty Linsky, who teaches leadership at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, described Perkins and its President, Steven Rothstein, to us: “Rothstein took an organization that had barely left the 19th century and turned it into the signature organization in the world in services to the blind. He is in my managerial hall of fame. He has completely   …Continue Reading


How to Make Good Leadership Decisions

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From Lance Armstrong to David Petraeus, how can leaders make so many bone-headed decisions? Leaders need an easy-to-use, bulletproof test for their decision-making. We offer one here. Bob recently attended sessions at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, where Stanford Professor Joseph Grundfest led some fascinating dialogue. We extrapolated the model that follows from that interaction. It is simple, memorable, and powerful: 1. Is it legal?2. Is it ethical?3. Is it smart? Is It Legal? The minimum threshold for all decisions is “Is it legal?” Too many leaders rationalize illegal behavior: • “The chances of getting caught are so small.”• “I’m smart enough to get away with it.”• “Everybody’s doing it.”• “I deserve it.”• “It really isn’t hurting anybody.” Of course, if you are caught, you’ll wonder later how you   …Continue Reading


Do What’s Right

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Interview with Four-Star General Jack Chain Former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Air Command Leaders Speak Series The Strategic Air Command (SAC) was responsible for America’s land-based strategic bombers and nuclear, intercontinental ballistic missiles from 1946 to 1992. General Jack Chain was Commander-in-Chief of SAC from 1986 to 1991. Here are excerpts of our interview with him for Triple Crown Leadership, our roadmap for building an excellent, ethical, and enduring organization: What was your approach to leadership when you took command of SAC? Chain: The day after I was sworn in I invited all the officers and senior sergeants on the base in for a beer, told them who I was, my background, what I expected from them, and what they could expect from me. Then I went out to all 52 bases in   …Continue Reading


Translating Mission & Values into Results

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Interview with Bill George Harvard Business School Professor and  Former CEO, Medtronic Leaders Speak Series  Bill George was the COO, then CEO and Chairman, of Medtronic from 1989 through 2002, the years when annual revenue increased an average 18% and earnings increased 22%. A host of innovative products were introduced during this time, and the price-to-earnings ratio of Medtronic’s stock went from 11 to 45. But the Medtronic story goes beyond growth and earnings, demonstrating how to build an excellent, ethical, and enduring company. George is the author of Authentic Leadership, True North (co-authored with Peter Sims), Finding Your True North, and Seven Lessons for Leading in a Crisis. He currently teaches at the Harvard Business School. Here are edited excerpts of our interview with him for Triple Crown Leadership. How would you   …Continue Reading


No Jerks Allowed

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“You know what a jerk is when you see it.” -Bob Diamond, Former CEO of Barclays Bank(Source: The Guardian) As CEO, Bob Diamond terminated 30 Barclays Bank staff in 2011 for breaking his “no jerks” rule. Diamond said six staff, who ran up a £44,000 lunch tab in London, epitomized “jerk” bankers. He said the rule applied to bankers who are prima donnas, too greedy, too ostentatious, or poor team players. How do you identify the jerks? When does a valuable maverick cross the line into Jerk-Land? How do you decide who to coach—and who to fire?   Here is our custom-built Jerk Identification System: * Ball Hog: Doesn’t play well with others. Wants the limelight. How to Handle: Emphasize the need to let others shine. Watch closely. * Mutterer: Doesn’t   …Continue Reading


Lance Armstrong Still Racing from the Truth

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 Lance Armstrong was “gaming the system”–exploiting the rules for personal gain. This is so disappointing because Armstrong was one of the most celebrated athletes in the world, with seven consecutive Tour de France championships. Armstrong is also a celebrity cancer survivor and philanthropist. He established the influential Livestrong Foundation, with its popular yellow bracelets, “changing the way the world fights cancer.” The Foundation has raised over $500 million since inception. Good work, indeed. While allegations of blood doping dogged competitors, Armstrong adamantly denied wrongdoing. He proudly proclaimed he had passed hundreds of drug tests. Then everything changed. The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency published a 202-page report, detailing overwhelming evidence that Armstrong was doping and encouraging others to dope. Armstrong denies the report’s allegations, but Bill Strickland, editor-at-large of Bicycling magazine, noted   …Continue Reading


Interview with Kit Crawford, Clif Bar

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“Sustainable Leadership”Interview with Kit CrawfordCo-Owner and Co-CEO, Clif Bar & CompanyLeaders Speak Series Clif Bar & Company is a privately held, family- and employee- owned company, creating nutritious and organic food for people-on-the-go. It has achieved double-digit annual revenue growth and won a long list of employment, diversity, and sustainability awards, including making Inc.’s list of the fastest-growing companies in the U.S. and Forbes’ “breakaway brands,” in both cases for multiple years. We interviewed Kit Crawford, Co-Owner and Co-CEO with her husband, Gary Erickson, of Clif Bar & Company, about leadership at the company and its commitment to sustainability. Here are excerpts from our interview with Crawford. How would you describe Clif Bar’s leadership approach? Crawford: Our approach to leadership is about staying true to our values as a company   …Continue Reading


Interview with Dr. Dan Sweeney

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“Breakdowns and Trans-Generational Culture” Interview with Dr. Dan Sweeney, Director, Institute for Enterprise Ethics, University of Denver Leaders Speak Series   Why do so many organizations break down? In recent years, some major corporations have had breakdowns and made significant mis-steps (e.g., BP, Johnson & Johnson, and Toyota). We interviewed Dr. Dan Sweeney, Director of the Institute for Enterprise Ethics at the University of Denver, to get his insights into what happened. This is the first in a new series—the Leaders Speak Series—in which we interview leaders about pressing topics. BP made some bold pronouncements about sustainability and corporate responsibility but then ran into major problems with the infamous Gulf oil spill in 2010. What happened? Dr. Sweeney: There is often a wide divide between what is said in the   …Continue Reading


Your Leadership Legacy

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  What will your legacy be?   In the age of Facebook, Twitter, iPhones, and tablets–of endless emails and ceaseless connecting–how rare it is to stop and think about that question. How rare it is to stick to the long game and not get caught up in short-termism. How rare it is to look to the far horizon, instead of the incessant barrage of immediate distractions and concerns. We all hunger for meaning and significance in our lives, but we leave them out of our daily diet. After a while, we starve for them. The quest for legacy can be found in the deeper terrain of leadership. Though rarely discussed, it is much more important than the vast majority of activities that consume our days. Talk of legacy can be   …Continue Reading


Wave of Cheating Scandals–And What To Do About Them

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Sad and shocking news from Harvard yesterday: about 125 undergraduate students are under investigation for possibly sharing answers or plagiarizing on a take-home final exam in a single course. (See here for background.) Harvard President Drew Faust said the following about the disturbing events on the Crimson campus: “These allegations, if proven, represent totally unacceptable behavior that betrays the trust upon which intellectual inquiry at Harvard depends.” The students in question have been called to appear before a review board. Unfortunately, Harvard is not alone in this struggle. In K-12 education, as we wrote this week in a guest editorial, a fuller picture recently emerged about what has been called “one of the most brazen cheating scandals in the nation.” According to two investigations, the founder and CEO of a   …Continue Reading


Suicide by Quarter–Leading for the Short-Term

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Have you ever: • Told one of your line managers to “do whatever it takes to make your numbers this quarter”? • Pulled sales from next quarter to make this quarter’s numbers? • Cut into critical R&D funds to hit Wall Street forecasts? • Asked the CFO to lower the reserves for future expenses to help earnings this quarter? • Taken an excessive restructuring charge, knowing that you could siphon some of the excess charges from balance sheet accounts into future earnings when you really need them? If so, you are committing suicide by quarter. These all-too-frequent actions are unsustainable. They put you on an accelerating treadmill, sacrificing what’s right for customers, employees, and even investors. These actions are common because people are good at rationalizing them: “Everybody’s doing it.”   …Continue Reading