Surviving The Storm

boat in a storm

And once the storm is over, you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about. – Haruki Murakami

I remember the day clearly. I was still in high school at the time, and my stepfather and I had taken our 25’ boat 32 miles off the coast of Galveston, TX, to a place called the Buccaneer rigs for some deep sea fishing. It was summer then, and the weather often unpredictable. But the forecast was clear and the water flat – a perfect day to venture offshore.

It’s a good 3 hour trip to the Buccaneer rigs, so when you go, you plan for the day. And at 32 miles out, you are far enough from the shore to make for difficult times if something were to go wrong. You always plan for the worst – plenty of fuel, food, water, extra batteries, life vests, satellite radio – all the things you might need if you ended up stranded or with engine problems. But that day things were going well. The engine was running as it should, the waves offshore at 3-4’ chop, and the sun was shining.

We made it to the rigs shortly after 9 am, and took in some trolling for amberjack and kingfish before the day got too hot. We had a few strikes early on, but only one Jack Crevalle made it to the boat. They are great fish to fight, but not so good to eat, so we let it go and motored up to the rig for some mid day snapper fishing. As my father edged us close to the structure, I took our 10’ stainless steel rig hook and latched us on. Then, we let the tide drag us until the rope was taught and we began dropping our lines.

For the first hour or so it was fantastic. We were getting several good hits and we found ourselves consumed with the task at hand. So consumed, in fact, that we hadn’t noticed the dark wall of clouds approaching from the West. We first noticed it when we felt the cold breeze that typically precedes one of these summer thunderstorms. Then, the sky turned black and the rain started. And in a matter of minutes, the wind had picked up with such an intensity we were scrambling to put away our gear and batten down the hatches.

And that’s when it happened. I looked up to see the rig we had been so closely tethered to nearly half a mile away. I scrambled to the front of the boat to pull up the dangling rig hook, only to discover it had been nearly straightened by the force of the wind. That’s when we knew we were in trouble. The waves were now swelling with ever greater intensity, and the boat was quickly being thrown about as the wind whipped into a frenzy. We weren’t going to ride this out – our only choice was to turn the boat into the storm and head as quickly as we could for shore.

By now the waves were 10-15’ in height, and the wind was screaming. The rain came down so hard it felt like rocks pelting our faces. The boat was moving as quickly as it could, but with every wave we hit it was with such force I thought I could hear the fiberglass cracking. Lightning struck on each side of the boat – not once, but in constant flashes. I was scared to death, and so was my stepfather.

We went on like this for what felt like days, although I suspect it was only hours. Slam, crack, pop. Waves overcoming the front of the boat and rolling over the back. I shook. I dreaded. I panicked. I prayed. I knew for sure this was the end, and there was no way I would make it out of this. But the only way to survive was to face the storm head on and muscle through it. And so we did.

Somewhere, somehow, and at some point the rain started to subside. It wasn’t all at once, but you could feel things were improving. You couldn’t quite see the shore or even the horizon, but you could tell the clouds were starting to ebb. We pushed forward until we found ourselves back in the safety of the bay with the harbor in sight.

The funny thing about life is it follows this same pattern. For the most part, its enjoyable. Things happen, yes, but the good often outweighs the bad, and the bad isn’t enough to set you back. Most days…

And then come the storms. They often come out of nowhere. Life seems to throw them at you when you are least expecting them. And I’m not talking about the little storms, I’m talking about the big ones. The ones that take the wind out of you. The storms that hit you to your core. The ones that you can’t overcome in a day, or a week, or sometimes in a month.

For whatever reason, I’ve seen friends hit by these personal storms lately, and I’ve even had to endure a few of my own. They aren’t fun, and at times it seems like the storm will never pass. But in fact it will. Not without pain and struggle, but if you push forward with determination, point towards the safety of the shore, and power through it, you will find your way to the safety of the harbor.

I Miss My Friend

NOTE:  For this month’s post I am hijacking my blog to share a tribute to a great man – Jamiel Saliba.  On January 9th, 2020, Jamiel was called home to be with the Lord and serve as one of his angels.  And on Saturday, January 18th, family & friends gathered in Birmingham, AL to send him off on this new journey.  Today I share my thoughts and reflections on this great man in hopes it is a small tribute to an unbelievable life, and to the impact he made on so many of us.  www.leadingwright.com is here in part because of that impact, so its only fitting that I post this. 

I MISS MY FRIEND

I remember the first time I met Jamiel.  It was sometime in 2004, and we had just completed the merger of COMSYS and Venturi Partners.  Jamiel was the head of their MSP program, vWorx, and I was running ours (COMSYS VMS).  We met at Don Shula’s Steakhouse in Birmingham, AL, but the initial meeting wasn’t instant friendship.  In fact, both of us approached it trying to show the other who was the “bigger man”.  I was on my phone, as was he, and we both gave each other the “wait a minute” finger to let the other know who was more important.  As we sat down for dinner, the topic of drinking came up immediately.  “You able to hold your liquor?”, he asked.  “I got a PhD in drinking from LSU”, I responded.  And then it was on.  Cocktails, bottles of wine, after dinner drinks – and somewhere around 1:30 am I called uncle and admitted defeat.  Score one for Jamiel.

I miss my friend.

Our work relationship was built from that point forward.  While I was given the nod to lead the new combined group, it was clear this wouldn’t be a one man show.  Our business debates and arguments were epic.  I was the dreamer, Jamiel the realist.  And it seemed every single idea I had would be countered with all the reasons why we couldn’t.  Thank God, as more often than not he was right.  But even when we didn’t, once it was decided he would step forward and make it happen as if it were his own.

I miss my friend.

In business, Jamiel was simply the best operator I have ever worked with.  He never missed a budget.  Let me say that again, he never missed a budget – EVER.  If you worked for him, you knew you had to perform.  Compassionate, yes, but he had expectations and you never wanted to let him down.  As I look across this audience, I see dozens and dozens of people who all worked for him and know this fact well.  He was the best.

I miss my friend.

His leadership meetings were unconventional but effective.  He would assemble the team in either Orlando or Destin (generally at his time share), and you would be asked to bunk up with your fellow co-worker as part of it.  The meetings themselves would be held at vacation resorts in their on-site activity centers, if they weren’t held in one of the rooms.  Dinners were routine – we would generally cook in.  One night was always spaghetti, and the other steak.  Cooking and cleaning were a group effort, and everyone was expected to do their part.  No fancy hotel conference rooms, no group dinners at The Palm.  That wasn’t how Jamiel wanted it.  No, this was about building culture, building a team, and creating trust.   Oh, and saving money to make budget.  And it worked.

I miss my friend.

When we were acquired by ManpowerGroup, Jamiel and I were charged with driving the TAPFIN program globally.  “The World Tour”, he used to call it.  Oh the fun we had.  Well, if you can call that fun.  From London to Paris, from Brussels to Frankfurt, we pushed forward to spread the TAPFIN way.  The Belgians were the first to come on board, the Germans followed shortly thereafter.  The French fought us for a good year before finally giving in.  And I’m not sure the Brits ever really complied.  But ever the soldier, Jamiel pushed forward.  “Attack in Force”, he used to say.  In the end, he helped build TAPFIN in to the world leader in MSP, with a geographic reach that is the envy of the industry.  The World Tour became World Dominance.

I miss my friend.

A creature of habit, he was ever the loyal patron.  If you flew overseas with him, you flew Delta.  Period.  The man must have achieved some godlike status on that airline.  Hotels?  You got it – Marriott or bust.  There was never a discussion – if you traveled with him, you stayed at his hotels.  And dinners?  Epic!  They were always the same – Bone’s in Atlanta (and it had to be Peter serving us); Amarone’s in New York; Orjawon in London (Fatima always ordered for us); Tuscany in Destin.  I’m sure many of you have a similar list specific to each city.  That’s just the way it was.

I miss my friend.

Our relationship was based on business, but it quickly became something more.  The man has a personality that was infectious, and I was infected from the first time I met him.  We had so much in common, and yet so little.  And in the end, that’s what made our friendship special.  Ever the Alabama fan, I had to endure the full force of his passion.  That’s not easy for an LSU fan, I assure you.  “27 SEC Championships, 17 National Championships, and the Greatest Tradition in College Football – This is Alabama Football” he used to say to me.  And to make matters worse, I had to listen to that every year as the count increased.  It would piss me off – and yet I’d look forward to his beaming face every time they won another championship.

I miss my friend.

Jamiel had many passions, but there were four that stood out above all else.  God, Country, Family, and Friends.  He was clear and steadfast in his religious beliefs.  He didn’t need to be a man of the cloth to do so.  Christ was his man, and he made no apologies for his beliefs.  No doubt he is sitting in heaven right now singing “Sweet Home Alabama” to the angelic masses attracted by that magnetic personality.  Heaven is better today because he is there.

To say he served his country would be an understatement.  Tours in Germany, Italy, and Bosnia capped a 23 year career in the US Army, retiring as a Lieutenant Colonel.  I could never do justice in speaking to his career as a soldier – I’ll leave that to his good friends such as Tommy Fricks and Al Lumpkin.  What I can say is that this country is safer today because he was there, and there are hundreds (maybe thousands) of soldiers whose lives were forever enriched after serving under his command.

What can I say about his love for his family?  In a short moment you will hear directly from them.  What I can tell you is that nothing was more important to him.  He adored his wife, Ellen (who doesn’t?).  His daughter, Jeannie, meant the world to him – and her passing tore him apart.  His two sons – Jamiel III and Jonathan – were his pride and legacy, and sharing his passion for BAMA football with them his greatest joy.  His life’s commitment was to raise his granddaughter, Shauna, in honor of Jeannie.  And his grandchildren meant the world to him.  I’m honored to be considered a small part of this family, and I have Jamiel to thank for getting to know them as such.

And last but not least were his friends.  I look around this room today and I see so many of those faces – so many people who’s lives he touched in profound ways.  Just to be in the same room with Jamiel was an experience.  Its like his energy drew you in.  And if you let him get to know you, you became one of those friends.  Dave McGonegal said it best to me recently – “I’ve never met a man who would wake up, walk down the hall, and meet three new people who would be friends for life.”  That was Jamiel.

I miss my friend.

But for all of that, I want to be selfish for a minute.  To me, he was more than a friend.  He was my brother.  My father.  My idol.  What defined him was his authenticity.  He was real.  He was present.  He was caring, compassionate, empathetic.  He was tough on the outside, and a big soft teddy bear on the inside.  I’ve learned so much about life, family, friends, business, and being a leader from him.  My life is SO MUCH BETTER having met him.

His departure from this world has left me shattered.  I am completely broken.  I am lost.  I ache.  I yearn to hear his voice again, and grieve that while I am in this world, I will never spend another minute with him.  Maybe one day in the future I will find a way to fill the hole he left in my soul.  But today….

God, I miss my friend.

The Meaning of Life IS to have Purpose

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

What is the meaning of life? Scientifically speaking, the “meaning” of life is to persist and evolve. Every organism has a drive for self-preservation. Every creature is genetically encoded to replicate, to evolve, and to persist. At the most basic level, that is the fundamental meaning or purpose of life – to live.

But that’s not the kind of “meaning” we’re talking about here. So again, what is the “meaning” of life? Humans have pondered this for thousands of years. It is the very thing that separates humans from other animals…the self-awareness necessary to ask this question.

If you search that question on the internet, you will get back over 2.3 billion results – a clear indication that there is no simple answer. Millions of blogs, articles, even books all claim they have an answer. Read through some of them and you’ll discover a wide range of answers. Some will tell you the meaning of life is to serve a higher power (clearly a spiritual perspective). Philosophers will tell you it’s to be happy (not a bad thought). Academics will tell you our very ability to process thought infers that the meaning of life is the pursuit of knowledge. Overachievers will tell you it is to be successful in whatever you do. And so on… you get the point. Continue reading

Being Present and Worrying Less

“Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Billy Graham

Recently my assistant gave me a desk calendar for my birthday. Knowing I love finding material for my monthly leadership blog, she gave me a calendar that has an inspirational quote for each day. Yes, I know its mid-way through the year, but I’m enjoying flipping through the quotes and finding wonderful nuggets of motivation.

When I stumbled across the quote above, it struck me profoundly. It’s one of those messages that seems simple on its surface, but much deeper when you let it sink in. For me, it speaks to two issues I have been struggling with in my life – being present and worrying less.

Being present is a big one for me. In my work life I have developed the skills of a multitasker. Well, maybe the words “developed” and “skills” are a stretch, but I will certainly confess to being one. The problem is we think that multitasking is a good thing, when in fact it isn’t. I recently read a study that was published that compared men and women to see who the better multitaskers were. Turns out, both are equal, but also equally poor at it. In fact, we are 2 times more likely to make a mistake when we multitask than when we don’t. Continue reading

We Choose to do the things that are hard…

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard” – John F. Kennedy

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the first man on the moon. An amazing milestone in history, one that both changed the course of humanity and resulted in countless innovations that even to this day have improved and enriched the lives of nearly every person on this planet. As Neil Armstrong famously said when he first stepped on the moon, “This is one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”.

While it was the U.S. that achieved this famous milestone, it was never assured it would be. In fact, at the time of John Kennedy’s famous speech, America was embroiled in a tight race for dominance in space, and the Soviet Union were much further ahead. It was the Soviets who launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile (rocket). It was the Soviets who placed the first artificial satellite in orbit (an important precursor to landing a man on the moon). And at the time, its audible “ping” signals sent from space were a clear and frustrating reminder of how far behind the Americans had fallen. Continue reading

Want to be Successful in Business? Outhustle the Other Guy/Gal

“There may be people who have more talent than you, but there is no excuse for anyone to work harder than you” Derek Jeter

About a year ago my company started a new service offering – Talent Path. The idea behind this offering is that we recruit and hire recent graduates from top universities who fit our profiles for the right academic foundation, aptitude, and attitude/commitment, then train them in specific skills and key technologies that are in high demand. It’s an unusual offering for a staffing company (particularly considering the investment in training and bench costs), but necessary in an environment like technology where demand far outstrips supply.

Now, to be clear, this isn’t a commercial on my new company/offering, but the context is important. As part of their first week with the company, I spend time with our cohorts to answer questions about the company and our purpose, vision, and mission. Inevitably, those sessions always turn in to a Q&A about the attributes they will need to be successful. Continue reading

Contrasting Success Factors – Accountability vs. The Blame Game

“Take accountability… Blame is the water in which many dreams and relationships drown” – Steve Maraboli

I’m a little behind in my blog posts this year, probably not the best way to showcase attributes of successful people. I’ll take the blame on that one and chalk it up simply to letting my schedule get overwhelmed. That’s not what successful people do. Then again, successful people take ownership for their actions, don’t they?

I find it amazing how quickly we make excuses or tend to point fingers when things go wrong. I don’t know if this has become a cultural phenomenon, but it sure feels like an epidemic. When things go wrong, we immediately look for someone to blame. Someone who didn’t do their job. Someone who failed to see the warning signs. Someone who simply dropped the ball.

I have a routine I have done every morning now for years. On the way in to the office, I flip between CNN and Fox News, largely for entertainment purposes. I guess I could tune my SiriusXM to the comedy channel, but I find more humor in these two networks. To be fair, they sprinkle in a little bit of news here and there, but most of it is one sided color commentary, and often it’s an amazing example of the blame game on steroids. Continue reading

Contrasting Success Factors – Entitlement vs. Empowerment

“I spend my life constantly calling in ‘imaginary’ debts that aren’t owed to me in order to avoid the ‘real’ debts that I owe to others, and so everybody ends up bankrupt.”  – Craig D. Lounsbrough

As I shift my attention to the new year, I thought I would take a slightly different approach to my leadership blog posts. This year, or at least for the next few months, I’d like to focus on the topic of “Success” by contrasting the different attributes of successful vs. unsuccessful people. So, let’s start this series out with a discussion on entitlement vs. empowerment.

More and more these days I find myself running in to the issue of entitlement. Sure, you have all heard plenty about the ‘entitlement’ mentality of the millennials (which I think is both incorrect and misunderstood). But to be honest, I’m seeing the issue of entitlement just as frequently (perhaps even more so) in the older generations. I’ll avoid any political association to this post and simply say that I believe entitlement has become far too prevalent today. And yes, there is a difference between social responsibility and entitlement. Continue reading