Inc. 500 CEO, Entrepreneur, CXO Advisor, Navy SEAL
In this episode, I interview Alden Mills, a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams. Alden is a longtime entrepreneur, with over 40 patents. He shares how leaders can Be Unstoppable!
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Alden Mills is a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander, author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams. He was the CEO of Perfect Fitness, one of the fastest-growing companies in America. Alden is a longtime entrepreneur, with over 40 patents, and has more than 25 years of experience working on high-performance leadership, sales, and team-building.
Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan “Press On” has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” (Calvin Coolidge)
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Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast, the podcast dedicated to promoting leadership development and sharing leadership insights. Here’s your host, The Leadership Excelerator®, Eddie Turner.
Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast
, the is the podcast dedicated to leadership development and insights. I’m your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. I work with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact through the power of professional speaking, executive coaching, and facilitation.
In the business world and in the world of sports, we often talk about being unstoppable. Being unstoppable, that mystic quality almost of being able to accomplish whatever we need to accomplish, whatever our chosen pursuit is, without any derailers. How can you and I be unstoppable? Well, my guest today Alden Mills has written the book, in fact, two books that tell us exactly how to do that. Alden Mills is a three-time navy seal platoon commander. He’s the author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams. He was the CEO of Perfect Fitness, one of the fastest growing companies in America. He’s also a long-time entrepreneur with over 40 patents and has over 25 years of experience working on high-performance leadership and high-performance sales.
Alden, welcome to the Keep Leading!® Podcast.
Thank you, Eddie. It’s great to be here.
I am super excited to have you. My oh my, when I talk about incredible backgrounds, man, I mean, that just doesn’t even do you justice. Please tell my audience what I missed.
I’m a father of four boys. I have two Labradors and I have failed way more than I have succeeded.
Okay, failed way more than you’ve succeeded. Tell me a little bit about that.
Everybody gets to hear about your successes but they never hear about all the years of tripping and falling and failing and getting back up and trying it a different way. The whole idea about being unstoppable is about unstoppable persistence. It’s about this idea that “Okay. So, it didn’t work that way. Let’s figure out another way to do it” and we just learned another way and another way. Some people will look at those as failures but every one of those, to me, was just an opportunity to learn something new and an opportunity to stop others that might be on the same path.
That’s much like the saying from Thomas Edison that I love so much, Alden. He said “I didn’t fail 10,000 times. I just figured out 10, 000 things that don’t work.”
That’s right, in regards to his light bulb. I often tell the story about how I started off in the fitness business and I invented what I thought was the world’s greatest fat-burning device called the Body Rev. I raised 1.5 million dollars from 37 of my closest friends and family members.
You’ve got some good friends.
Yeah. Well, that was a journey in itself. Then over the next four years I learned 1,475,000 dollars’ worth of ways not to launch that product. And we were basically down to the last 25,000 and my wife’s credit cards and nobody wanted to hear about our next product but this small team of mine, which was a total handful of five people, we had this vision of bringing a next generation healthcare to the masses and this healthcare company would be about proactive healthcare, would be about a way of helping people to take control of their bodies. If they could take control their bodies, our attitude was then you could take control of your life. That’s where the Perfect Push-Up came from. There was a moment where not a single investor said “Hey, you need to go get a job. It’s over.” And there was one investor, my father-in-law, who said “Hey, that might be a good idea. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you six months to see if that will work.” And everybody hears of the Perfect Push-Up and they go “Oh my God, that’s like the overnight success” and I laugh and I’m like “Yeah, the overnight success that took 10 years.”
How about that! I love your candor and the fact that you opened up with not all the excellent things that you’ve accomplished and done but the failures that took 10 years to become an overnight success as it were.
That’s what it is. Being unstoppable doesn’t just automatically give you carte blanche to say “Oh, you have the Midas touch. You’ll succeed at everything.” The folks that seemingly have the Midas touch have just gotten really good at turning a failure into a learning opportunity where they can fall forward.
Where did this mindset come from, Alden? Have you always had it or did you develop it from someplace else?
I will tell you where it originally started. I was 12 years old. I was in the big city of Worcester, Massachusetts, which is basically the city where I was born but I lived in a smaller town in central Mass and I had just been diagnosed with asthma. And this doctor had pulled me into his office and he had all these different machines and I was blowing in all these different things and he looked like an older Danny DeVito with white wispy hair and coke bottle glasses and he had this look on his face like he was constantly smelling sour milk. He would say “Mrs. Mills, I see what the problem is here. Take a look at this chart” and he would open this chart up and he would go “Do you see this? Your son, he’s born with smaller than normal-sized lungs for his age” and he was showing all these dots that are up going in this linear fashion and mine are much lower. Then he flips a page and goes “Yeah, you see this chart? This one right here, this shows his airway and how much force or lack of force he’s got coming in and out of his lungs. You can see? He’s got reactive airway disease. That’s called asthma. You know, this is what he needs to do. I’ll give him medicine but he needs to lead a less active lifestyle. He needs to learn the game of chess. Yeah, I think that’s a good game for him.” I hear that. My chin drops to my chest. Mom immediately senses that I’m about to go into a full pity party for myself and she taps me on the shoulder and she says “Why don’t you go wait in the lobby?” And I’m sitting in the lobby and I’m crying so much and I remember making little designs on the linoleum floor with my tears and she comes out and kicks my foot and she says “What’s wrong with you?” I’m like “Mom, chess? I’m terrible at checkers. How am I going to play chess?” And she drops down and she had these long fingernails and she dug them into my forearm to get my attention and she’s like “Now, you listen to me. Nobody defines what you can or can’t do but you? Do you hear me? I’ll get you the medicine but you’ve got to decide what you can or can’t do.” And, of course, I didn’t get it that moment. And she’s digging in deeper and she’s like “Do you understand me? And I’m like “Okay, okay.” She’s like “Say it back to me.” I said it back to her and, of course, I didn’t get it that day, I didn’t get it that week or that month but I did over the next couple of years when my mom and my dad would constantly be whispering into my ears and sometimes yelling into them things like “So what if you scored against your own team in basketball? Go try out for another sport.” And I was not very good with ball sports. I ended up scoring on myself in soccer and lacrosse and hockey and basketball but I found a sport two years later which was rowing and I could sit on my butt and go backwards for long periods of time and I got the team dynamic of it right. It was all about putting eight oars into the water at the same time.
And I give you that story when you ask “Where did you get this mindset?” Was I born with it? No, I don’t think so. Did I start to get a taste of it from that point on? Absolutely. And I was very lucky to have two parents that were always so supportive of my wacky ideas, one of which was trying out for rowing. What ended up happening from that little moment was rowing took me to the Naval Academy to trying out for the Olympic team. It took me to the SEAL team. It took me to being an entrepreneur, to being a father of four kids, I mean, a community leader. The pebble in the pond was the confidence to try.
Powerful. So, at 12 years old, that was the seminal moment with your mom not listening to someone who said because you had asthma that you should learn chess. You went on to move into not doing that but becoming a great rower which landed you in different places including serving as a Navy SEAL.
Yeah, and one built upon the other. In much the same way, I might add, that negativity builds on one another, right? If you’ve ever heard of the term ‘Negativity Bias’ where we have this innate ability to focus more on negativity because we’ve got these survival mindset instincts that we’re born with where it’s much more important for us to survive than it is for us to thrive. So, our brain is constantly looking at the negative and paying attention to the negative to make sure we stay alive. The problem with that is that we also have a tendency to extrapolate one negative idea on top of another on top of another on top of another, which I call a negative hypothetical. Now, in that case, for whatever reason, my mom knew that if I started listening to that doctor, in that very short succession, I would have created a series of negative hypotheticals to say “Look, well, the doctor said I have small lungs and the doctor said I have reactive airway disease and the doctor said I should lead a less active lifestyle. Therefore, I can’t run. Therefore, I can’t play a sport. Therefore, I should just stay inside and play video games,” right? But what can also happen, if you really take the effort, you can switch it to positive hypotheticals. And shortly after I started rowing, I started saying “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if I made one of the varsity boats? What would that be like?” And then you make one of the varsity boats – “Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if we got to row overseas against the fastest crews in the world? Wow! Wouldn’t it be cool if I got to do this in college? What would it be like if I tried out for the Olympics.” And then you can do exactly the same thing but on the positive.
And so, I would say the greatest thing that I’ve always stayed focused on is keeping a belief of what is possible, not thinking about what’s not possible. And that belief is the underpinning to being unstoppable.
Keeping the belief in what is possible versus the antithesis which would lead to the negativity bias. Thank you for introducing me to that theory.
I’m talking to Alden Mills. He’s a leadership advisor, co-founder of Perfect Fitness, a former Navy SEAL and author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams. We’ll have more from Alden right after this.
This podcast is sponsored by Eddie Turner LLC. Organizations who need to accelerate the development of their leaders call Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®. Eddie works with leaders to accelerate performance and drive impact. Call Eddie Turner to help your leaders one on one as their coach or to inspire them as a group through the power of facilitation or a keynote address. Visit EddieTurnerLLC.com to learn more.
This is Haben Girma. I am the disability rights lawyer, author, and speaker. You’re listening to Keep Leading!® Podcast with Eddie Turner.
Okay, we’re back, everyone. I’m talking to Alden Mills. He is a leadership advisor, co-founder of Perfect Fitness, a former Navy SEAL and author of Be Unstoppable and Unstoppable Teams.
Alden, right before the break, you told us the secret to being unstoppable and that is believing in what is always possible. You shared a little bit about your background as a SEAL. Can you tell us a little bit about your achievement of becoming a Navy SEAL and what that has done to your view of leadership?
It was a natural progression for me to go from the sport of eight-oared rowing at the Naval Academy in the SEAL team. Of course, it wasn’t a perfect progression. Halfway through SEAL training, my lungs started to fill up with blood during a three-mile swim and I got pulled out and they found out that I had been taking asthmatic medicine because even though I’d been diagnosed 10 years earlier, I wasn’t fully ready to give up with that crutch. There was a little soul searching that went on because I ended up getting a series of tests and eventually was allowed to continue training but I had to repeat a portion of it again, which is never enjoyable, but I will tell you the great elements of SEAL training are all about selflessness. And it’s one of the big things I talk about in my book Unstoppable Teams is that difference between a group and a team is moving from a point of selfishness to selflessness. And what is amazing about these SEAL teams is you have all these highly motivated individuals that are so hungry to operate as a team of selfless warriors.
And so much so, you tell a story, if I remember, in the book about what you all were told. Even though you’re individually just amazing men, your commander would often say something about the person many of us think of when we think of a SEAL, Rambo. What did you say in the book about Rambo?
Early on in the book I talk about what one of the instructors said was there ain’t no room for Rambos in the SEAL team. And at that point, I think, the First Blood had come out and then we had Rambo, the movie, and it was a fun pop culture analogy to what we were dealing with. And what he was saying was “Don’t come in here thinking that being a Rambo is the way SEAL Team is. We’re absolutely the antithesis of that.” And another thing that one of my commanding officers told me, which I’ve always loved and I try to pass it on to anybody that will listen, is only ever be as tough as the situation dictates. And really what he’s talking about is if you’re walking into a birthday party where everybody is playing musical chairs or having some fun there, don’t puff your chest out and go around thinking “You need me, Mr. Tough Guy.” If you’re in a situation where you’ve been treading cold water for a long period of time and people are shooting at you and you need to get out and get to that submarine, then you do what it takes to make it happen. And I’ve always liked that scalability because I also believe that’s really an important piece of leading. You need to always be able to scale your leadership to the situation.
Yes, I think of the work of Daniel Goldman in one of his landmark Harvard articles about what makes a leader. And in that article, actually it’s “Leadership That Gets Results” by Daniel Goldman, and he talks about, he used the illustration of golf clubs. So, wouldn’t always use a driver on the golf course. At a certain point, you need just a gentle putter but some leaders, that’s how they are. They’re just swinging on people all the time.
Eddie, thank you for sharing that with me. I think that is a fabulous analogy. That’s exactly what I’m referring to. There’s an entire scale of when you’ve got to be at your toughest and when your softest will be more than enough.
Yes, indeed. So, great lessons. And also, what I thought was so interesting about that is in some cases we may think of Rambo is the hero, as you said, he was pop culture at the time but in your context, that became almost the word meaning you’re doing something bad if you’re acting like Rambo. So, as we come into our different roles of a leader, those are the different things we have to consider. So, fast forward to your life as a CEO, how did the lessons you learned up until that point prepare you to be a CEO?
Well, first of all, I remind people all the time that leading SEALS and leading civilians are two different jobs. Now, there are lots of similarities because there’s humans involved in both of them but there are also totally different constructs between the military and the civilian world. And I will tell you it is easier to lead in SEAL training than it is to lead as a civilian.
Because in SEAL training, they have a department called X Division. If they don’t like your attitude, you’re tapped on the shoulder and they’re like “You’re out. Go to X Division.” You fail? You don’t pass something? You go to X Division. And when you’re in X Division, nobody in X Division is even allowed to look at you, those that are still in the arena of SEAL training that are trying to get through the next day. They literally have to turn their backs as a class goes walking by but as a civilian, you can’t be that way. You have to have a wider skill set to deal with the diversity that comes in through the front door every day. In a lot of ways, you really need to think of people like volunteers. And how you treat a volunteer is very similar in many cases to how you treat somebody that’s working with you on a daily basis. And I also want to stress, they work with you. They don’t work for you. Lots of leaders make that mistake in thinking “Well, I got all these people that work for me now.” No, actually, if you wanted to think of any way of working with them, you’re working for them. You are there to serve them. That’s what true leadership is about. And I use this phrase from time to time and I say “To lead is to serve. To serve is to care.” And your real job as a leader is to show them how much you care about them, about the mission or the company or the focus of that job, and the customer and the community and your contributors of your team.
So, what I hear you’re saying is that in both contexts, the military life as a Navy SEAL and as a CEO, it’s not about how tough you are. It’s not about how much more you know than other people. I hear you’re saying something very different as you talked about having a different skill set.
And that connective tissue between SEAL training or SEAL team and being a CEO, the connective tissue there is exactly the same and that’s showing how much you care.
Showing how much you care, which in the world of business used to be a dirty word, right? It wasn’t about caring and about feelings. It was about “Let’s just get the job done at all costs” but certainly it never should have been that way, quite frankly, but in today’s business world, there’s a premium being put on emotionally intelligent leadership. And so, leaders do have to show empathy, they do have to care and be aware of the temperature that they are producing in an organization.
So, thank you for sharing that.
And I couldn’t agree more with you, by the way. Without question, your emotional intelligence, your ability to empathize, your ability to connect with your folks, your team members is the cornerstone to then creating an unstoppable team.
How would you summarize our conversation today, Alden?
Well, first thing, since we had a chance to chat before I even got on here, is how much you care about what you’re doing. And one of the things I really enjoyed about our conversation is that you’re very thoughtful and understanding who I am, what I’ve done, and the topics that are really important to me, in particular, talking about how to lead with care.
Well, thank you. I appreciate that, Alden. Well, I find you to be a very fascinating individual. And certainly, all that you’ve done for the country and for the world of business, it’s not only impressive but exemplary, something for us all to aspire to. So, thank you.
This is the Keep Leading!® Podcast and in addition to the wonderful information you’ve shared and the content, I always like to learn from leaders like yourself is there a story or a quote that you live by that you can share to help us as leaders keep leading?
Well, since we are talking about leadership and keep leading, I would want to encourage all of your listeners to understand from Teddy Roosevelt’s words to your ears, one of my favorite quotations and that is, and I think he said it something like this, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Maybe I sound a little more like Winston Churchill but my point of bringing that up is don’t ever forget what leadership is about. It’s about building relationships. It’s about building relationships with other people where they no longer are worried about their backs. They’re worried about your back. And the only way that that’s going to happen is that they know that you have got their back. That’s what leadership is about.
Wonderful. I love it. Thank you for sharing that with us, Alden. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed talking with you. Where can my listeners learn more about you?
They can come to my website to link in with me but my website is Alden-Mills.com
Wonderful. I’ve enjoyed talking to you, Alden. Thank you for being a guest on the Keep Leading!® Podcast. We’ll be sure to put all that in the show notes so folks can look for you, find you, book you for speaking, they will thoroughly enjoy you.
Well, I look forward to hearing from you.
And thank you for listening. That concludes this episode, everyone. I’m Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator®, reminding you that leadership is not about our title or our position. Leadership is an activity. Leadership is action. It’s not the case of once a leader, always a leader. It’s not a garment we put on and take off. We must be a leader at our core and allow it to emanate in all we do. So, whatever you’re doing, always keep leading.
Thank you for listening to your host Eddie Turner on the Keep Leading!® Podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the Keep Leading!® Podcast on iTunes or wherever you listen. For more information about Eddie Turner’s work, please visit EddieTurnerLLC.com.
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The Keep Leading!® podcast is for people passionate about leadership. It is dedicated to leadership development and insights. Join your host Eddie Turner, The Leadership Excelerator® as he speaks with accomplished leaders and people of influence across the globe as they share their journey to leadership excellence. Listen as they share leadership strategies, techniques and insights. For more information visit eddieturnerllc.com or follow Eddie Turner on Twitter and Instagram at @eddieturnerjr. Like Eddie Turner LLC on Facebook. Connect with Eddie Turner on LinkedIn.