Meny Hoffman chats with Navy SEAL and long-term entrepreneur Alden Mills about leading with CARE and the power of focus.
To lead is to serve, and to truly serve is to CARE—Connect, Achieve, Respect, and Empower. On this week’s incredibly valuable episode, I chat with Alden Mills—a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and the CEO of Perfect Fitness, one of the fastest-growing companies in America. Alden is a long-term entrepreneur with over 40 patents and more than 25 years of experience working with high-performance teams.
Don’t miss this fascinating and empowering discussion as we tackle how to lead with the unstoppable mindset of a Navy SEAL. We talk about focusing on what you can control, what it means to lead with CARE, and the difference between the whiner and the whisperer. This interview is full of golden nuggets and no-nonsense advice to help you lead better.
Listen and enjoy!
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How to Lead with the Unstoppable Mindset of a Navy SEAL—with Alden Mills
I had the pleasure of speaking with Alden Mills. He is a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and was the CEO of Perfect Fitness, one of the fastest-growing companies in America. He is the bestselling author of the books, Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership and Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything. He’s a long-term entrepreneur with more than 40 patents and more than 25 years of experience working with high-performance teams. I had a great time and a blast speaking with Alden. There’s much that he shared in this interview. Pay attention to how Alden explains the shift in mindset before he started training to be able to be trained to be a Navy SEAL commander.
Also, notice the way Alden breaks down the steps to make sure to focus on what you could control and never focus on the stuff you cannot control. Finally, pay close attention to the practical tips Alden provides how to lead with care and we go into detail about what CARE stands for. Alden explains the difference between the whiner and the whisperer and why you should always be the whisperer and never be the whiner. I encourage you to read this interview. It’s full of golden nuggets and no-nonsense advice for you and your business. Without further ado, here is my interview.
Alden, thank you much for joining me on the Let’s Talk Business show.
It’s an honor to be here.
As a former Navy SEAL commander, it’s always fascinating to speak to people that are an ordinary citizen that went for the call of duty and thank you for your service on that. We should be able to learn from it. People that follow me, follow the show probably heard a thousand times where I speak about, if you’re looking for leadership, you speak to the military. That’s where you learn leadership and that’s how you see culture. That’s how you see people looking out for each other. You have a vast background. I want you to give the audience a little bit of understanding of what’s your background because that’s going to set the tone. There’s much to talk about, but that will set the tone a little bit.
Let me first set the tone by telling the audience that I can’t stand talking about what I did in the past, because I always like thinking about what we can do now and moving into the future. In a way of offering up what I’ve done, the most important first pivotal moment in my life is when I was diagnosed with asthma. My mother was by my side when the doctor said I should learn the game of chess and lead a less active lifestyle. She and my father over a series of years stepped in and said, “No one defines what you can or can’t do, but you. It’s up to you. Do you understand that? We’ll get you the medicine, but you go out there and figure what your true limits are. Nobody else.” I bring that point up because that is a real central theme not just you or me, but everybody who’s reading. That this whole treadmill that we’re on, there is no destination.
Don’t assume that once you’ve reached this certain place, that’s it. Keep growing. Throughout my life, I went from athletics and rowing because it turned out I was terrible at all ball sports, but I was good at sitting on my butt, going backward, pulling an oar. That took me to the Naval Academy. From the Naval Academy that took me to the SEAL team. From the SEAL team that took me to graduate school and then took me to start my own businesses. I’ve started them in hard goods and then in consumables. Hard goods would be things like the perfect pushup, the perfect pull up. We grew that business dramatically around the world. We started one in pet supplements and treats. I’m a big fan of my dogs. That’s called Presidio Pet. I did something in security where we created these little handheld devices. I am in what I call content entrepreneurship. I’m a speaker, a coach and a writer. I enjoy helping others understand and believe in themselves to go beyond what they originally thought possible.
I’m thankful for you sharing this. I’m happy that the way you responded to my question. The reason is that many people tuning into this show or around the world are not maximizing their potential because they’re looking for the past. They’ve got this excuse, “Because of my past, because of this, this is my limitation and therefore I’ll stay doing this for the rest of my life.” When you’re true to yourself and you don’t want to fool yourself, you always look for the future and see, “What is still ahead of me. What could I still be able to go out, make myself that goal, make that dream possible, and do what I’m meant to be doing?” There’s much potential in people if only they realize themselves on what potential they have. I appreciate how you answered the question.
Meny, it’s why I agreed to come onto your show because I appreciate how you think about things. Your mindset is what motivated me to be on this. I am a student of mindset. I will have a course launching called Unstoppable Mindset. At the end of the day, it comes down to what you mentioned, those beliefs, those X, Y, or Z things that happened in their past that for whatever reason. We all have them. They keep us anchored in the past. They hold us back. That is one of the great things that we can do for each other is to help cut that anchor chain and get people starting to think about moving forward, above and beyond what was happening behind them.
Let’s speak about leadership in general and that mindset. The first question will be a generic question and maybe you’ve answered it a thousand times in the past, which is a lot of times leaders ask me, “What if I don’t have that mindset? What if I started my company? I’m doing this every single day, but I don’t have that vision. I don’t have that mindset of what else could I achieve? How big could I grow? How could I continue to expand?” What do you answer to a leader like that?
Whenever you’re stuck, stop thinking about yourself and turn to those around you and ask yourself how you can serve them. The answer will always come. Leading and this whole idea of like, “I want to be a servant leader,” to me that’s redundant. To lead is to serve and to truly serve is to care. If you want to create your business to be the best that business can be, then you need to be the best at serving whatever the value is that business brings to not just the customer. The best businesses serve four dimensions. They serve the customer, your coworkers and your teammates, the people inside your company. They serve the contributors to your business. In my business, my contributors would be my manufacturers.Don't assume that once you've reached a certain place, that's it. Keep growing. Click To Tweet
They’d be my 3PL logistics partners. They were my outside marketing consultants. They were all kinds of different key people that if they didn’t show up and bring their best, my business wouldn’t be its best. Finally, it’s to the community. I call those the four Cs, the customer, coworker, contributor, and your community. When you get stuck and you get wrapped around the axle of, “I need to have this grand vision,” I say to you, turn and look inside your company to figure out how to serve your coworkers more. Figure out how to serve your community more, your customers, and even your contributors. I promise you that vision will unfold piece by piece.
I always say that when you’re a good leader, what it’s going to happen is you’re going to have a happy team, which will make happy clients and make you a happy bank.
I couldn’t agree more. Yes, happy bank, great, but money is a byproduct of delivering whether you call it happy service, happy value, great value. The more that you end up focusing on how to help, how to serve, the money will flow. That won’t be your issue.
You said, they have to look inside them and start figuring out how they’re going to be servicing the people around them. It starts with our team. What if that person doesn’t have leadership within themselves? Is it a possibility to sometimes hire someone, a number two person within your company that person brings that vision, a person brings that culture in order to grow their company that way?
I would absolutely agree with that. I would also say that there is no one person that has all the skills necessary to do whatever it is you think you need to do. Unless your goal is small that the goal only requires you, then your goal is too small. You have set too low of a bar for yourself if all you need is you. The big ones, those big audacious, hairy, scary goals. They’re the BHAGs. You need a diverse team of people to go after something like that. When that occurs, then you start to realize, “I suck at a lot of different things.” When you can have your ego put aside and realize, “I am terrible at data analytics. I’m terrible at marketing. I’m terrible at supply chain logistics, but you know what I’m good at? I’m good at sales.” Let’s find the best in those other departments and bring them in. Together, we’ll put a vision of how we can provide the best value to others.
For our audience, this is something that we all have work to do, which is as business owners and as leaders, we always think we’re the smartest person in the room. We always think that we have all the answers because it’s our vision. We started this company. As soon as you identified that, what you said, which is that you’re not good at everything and what you’re not good at. Let’s bring in those people and give them the autonomy to do their job. We step back. That’s a recipe for success because you continue to do what you’re great at.
The scenario you mentioned in sales, you continue to bring in the sales, but let operation take over to make sure that we’re profitable. Let’s make sure that we give great customer service. This is a valuable point for our audience to pay attention to. When we tune into this show, I always mentioned it to our audience, which is, pause a second or make a note after tuning into this and say, “Let me go through my day-to-day schedule. Let me look at the activities that I do, which are the things that I could feel that I’m not good.” Maybe there are even people in your company that could be better at it than you.
Start delegating, training them and this sets up for success. I want to go back. You mentioned not going back to your past. I must get back to some of the stuff that I love and what you could share from the Navy SEALS and the SEAL team in particular. I know that based on what I listen, hear, and read and heard from other guests on the show. You have gone through a lot of training and that preparation of training is what I heard in the past is a lot that helps you be successful in what you do. Business owners in the other side are almost never prepared for what’s coming their way. All of a sudden, a new competition, all of a sudden, the best employee is walking over the job. I want you to share with us. What could we learn from that training that you got and how can we mimic it or at least get some preparation for a business owner in order to be able to match the two together?
One of the most important first things I learned was the power of focus. The power of what I call focusing on our controllables. There are many things out in this world we can’t control. We can’t control the weather. We can’t control the markets. We can’t control our customers. We can’t even control our kids. Let’s be honest. I’ve got four of them, but we can control how we think, how we feel, how we behave, what we believe in, and how we physically act. If assuming everybody’s lucky enough to move their arm and legs. If they’re reading this, at least they have the ability to take some type of action.
Early on in training, we had this character come talk to us before we started training. He talked in this deep southern accent and he said, “You all want to know the secret making it through Navy SEAL training? It isn’t complicated. It’s hard but it isn’t complicated. You have to decide what you’re going to focus on. Are you going to focus on the pain of training or are you going to focus on the pleasure that training will provide you? I know for a fact, 80% of you are going to focus on the pain. Do you know why? It’s because you all want to be a SEAL on a sunny day and that’s a problem. You see your country doesn’t need SEALs on sunny days. She needs them on scary days when it’s cold, dark and it’s wet. That crack over your head, that isn’t thunder, that’s somebody who wants you dead. How bad you want to be a SEAL on that day?”
I’m starting to close the story down a bit here to condense it. He said, “My job is to create a conversation.” He took out his index finger and he pointed to his temple, “Between here.” He dropped index finger right over his heart. He said, “Here’s a conversation that’s going to drive you to make a decision on what you’re going to focus on.” He goes on and talks about how he’s going to pound on us, like a hunk of metal like how a sword smith makes a sword and all that stuff. Those are two important points I want to share. Number one, everybody wants to be a SEAL on a sunny day. Remove the word SEAL, put in sales, put in entrepreneur, put in CEO, put in whatever it is that you fantasize about in your business.
That’s a sunny day. The large majority of everything that we deal with in business is not sunny. The ones that are able to find joy during those rainy days and realize that it’s going to take a whole bunch of focus on what we can control to get through that. That’s going to set you up for success. The other piece of this is this conversation. In my second book, Unstoppable Teams, I call that conversation between the whiner and the whisperer. We all have it. You don’t have to go through Navy SEAL training to know this. The whiner says, “We’ve got a new competitor. What are they going to do? What’s going on over there? They came out with better things and this not right.” All of a sudden, our focus has shifted to something we cannot control, our competitor. We can go back to that competitor, look at what they’re doing and say, “They’ve got some features, functions and maybe we ought to include as benefits for us. Let’s see what happens.” We have to keep that focus. Another is the whisperer.
The whisperer is much quieter, comes from inside of us and it says, “Get up. Keep going. Let’s try a different way.” That is your first job as a leader is how you lead that conversation inside yourself. The better you become at leading that conversation inside yourself, you will then be more adept at leading that conversation inside others. Every single body has that conversation. We’re all built with a negativity bias. The negativity bias is nothing more that we emphasize negative more than positive. It’s a survival mechanism. It is a two million year plus old system of self-preservation that we have inside of ourselves. If we’re not careful, we’ll let the negativity grow into negative hypotheticals. “If they’re already doing this and they’re doing that, then we can’t even compete. We’re done. Game over.” You’re just getting started. That’s the first, most important thing they teach you in training is that focus funnels your energy into taking an action. If you’re not careful, your funnel of focus will spring leaks that will come from physical, mental and emotional distractions.
When I’m interviewed on shows and I’m asked the question, you seemed you figured everything out and I maybe share something that says, “I am yet to find a business owner that could tell you that they figured everything out. You have to lead knowing that every day, there’s another stumbling block that you need to overcome.” Not every stumbling block is a reason to quit. I always try to illustrate a point. When I leave every single day and I closed the door of my office and it was a sunny day as you call it before, I always say, “There’s probably something that somebody didn’t tell me yet. I’ll find out about it tomorrow morning.” The reason why I have that mindset is you have to be prepared. You have to know that this is how business is operating. There’s no sunny day every single day. There are sunny hours. There is a certain satisfaction you have because you figured out the challenge. You served the client. You see the success you have brought the client. Working is hard by definition. That’s what meant to be.
What you shared for our audience is important. If you look at leaders across the spectrum from successful companies, one of the things you’ll always hear, the common denominator is that focus. If you see those CEOs that maybe they were successful a few years and all of a sudden, they have to go because they brought in a lack of focus. They started shifting the company all over the place. They had to bring in somebody else to clean up the mess and back to focus. What’s the core, what’s our product, what’s our offering and zoom back in. I appreciate that. I want to ask you a follow-up question to this. You’re also the CEO of Perfect Fitness, which was the number one fastest-growing US consumer product company in 2009. How much of that you mentioned about your training in the past could you contribute to how you operated and how you were able to focus in your company?
I relied heavily on it. If you look back at my career from 18 to 30, I was in the military including the four years at the Naval Academy. I went to business school for two years and then started companies back in 2002 onward. That’s what your brain does. It goes back to what you know. What I knew was how to build a team in some adverse environments. Everybody’s hearing about all my successes but make no mistake. I failed way more than I succeeded. You happened to hear the high watermark of some successes. I faced bankruptcy three times. Every time I faced bankruptcy, all the outside experts were saying, “This is what you should do. You should file for bankruptcy. It’s a smart thing.”
They wanted to shift my focus. I could hear that instructor and that deep southern girl, “You’ve got to decide.” I realized the more I focused on a bankruptcy lawyer, the more my focus was on going bankrupt. The moment I shifted that focus to saying, “No, there’s got to be another way to do this. How can I do this and preserve the business, preserve our customers, preserve our employees, and make it through this?” Do you know what happens? You focus one day at a time. You don’t focus on the mountain. You focus on the moment. I often say that to people, focus on the moment, not the mountain. Don’t let yourself get psyched out about how far you’ve got to hike up.
Focus on what you can do now. That helped me with some of the most difficult moments. Moments where investors have said, “It’s over, go and get a job. You’re embarrassing yourself.” To moments where a bank would say after I had a $15 million loan outstanding, she would like to call it in 30 days and “By the way, let us remind you that you go sign on this loan and your house and your partner’s homes are all on the line too.” We got them over time to repay that loan in full with no discounts in 300 days. How did we do that? It’s one day at a time. It’s all about where you put your focus and your team’s focus.
When you speak to business owners, they’re not covering their costs and they’re trying to expand. There are always two ways of doing it. There are going to be the people there saying, “How can we bring in more revenue?” While the others will say, “How can we cut the expenses?” Both of them are important. Both of them could get you where you want to be. The question is you have much more leverage if you bring in more business than trying to cut expenses and trying to stay with what’s left.
I’m in alignment with you on that. It’s always healthy to invite that conflict, which is that debate in, and let’s not be a pennywise and pound-foolish year. We can cut some costs, but by the way, cutting all the costs makes this place unenjoyable. We need to have some of these costs. We like to have pizza on Fridays. We like to have a gathering on offsite once a quarter. Don’t be penny wise, pound foolish on those costs. Think about more importantly, how can we serve? It brings it all back. How can we serve our coworkers? How can we serve our customers? Some of those costs are serving your coworkers, which in an indirect way, then go out because they’re happy to serve their customers. We do these offsites. We give them masterclass training. We give them additional education. Those are costs but those all roll up to helping us serve better, which eventually brings us in more sales.We all have the capability to lead in our own ways, but how we lead ourselves becomes a reflection on how we lead others. Click To Tweet
We are all about the company culture. When I say company culture, it’s all about the culture of excellence not perks, babysitting service and pink bump tables. It’s all about education. We have a program in our company, which is called Book It, which we pay $50 for every book you read. We want to infuse people to read books and share it with a team. There are many virtual events happening now where in a regular basis, it’s hard for us to travel. One of our people told me that this event is happening and a lot of our people will enjoy it. I sent out an email to the team saying that this event is happening.
It’s a full-day event, but for two hours, you have a company pass. Go listen to any of those sessions that make sense for you and your role. We have a weekly huddle. It’s happening remotely through Zoom. One of the people said, “We thought you sent us to listen to a session about more creativity and more marketing. I ended up choosing something that I feel it was a therapy session for me. You paid my therapy session. Thank you for that.” The reason I’m sharing this is when you’re focused on your team, you never know what piece of advice, what piece of information, what they need in order to get to the next stage or for that growth.
Getting over that barrier that they’re somehow facing. You have to give them the opportunity to listen to a podcast, listen to a book, watch a video together, or some events. If you’re isolating your people from those events and all they’re doing is serving the customer from the inside and not understanding what’s out, you’re limiting their capabilities. I’m sharing it because as leaders, we always have to look, “What else could I do?” We have limitations of going to events. What is the alternative to that?
I enjoyed that little example you gave because it also tells me what kind of leader you are. Employees are comfortable enough to come up to you and make a suggestion that probably has some costs associated with it. You not only accepted that suggestion but acting on immediately, and do you know how those people feel? They feel like you’re listening, you care, and they’re going to think of new things that they can bring to you that you’ll bring to the team. That is a powerful example of what team dynamics is all about.
You know how many times I have conversations with leaders and we speak about going for an outing, going for a team-building experience or doing stuff. They’re saying, “What’s the ROI on those things.” I always say, “I could put a price tag to what it brought us back in return.” Especially when COVID hit, teams were dismantled all across and people were picking up responsibilities that are not even part of the job description because they want to be supportive. That’s when you show you’re always there to care for them. As business owners, we have those challenging times. They were saying, “What can we help? How can we help? How can we do stuff to make it easier for you as a business owner, as a leader?” It has an ROI. It’s not just the perks because we want to be the best place to work. We get good talent coming in our way. I want to move to something that you call a leadership framework and you call it CARE. I want you to share what is it and how does it help leaders grow and scale?
What is it is defined over about five chapters in my book, Unstoppable Teams. It’s based off of 100-year-old quotation from Teddy Roosevelt, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” The question is, how do you show how to care? Why is care important? Here we are at a time in the human race that has never had a higher level of connectivity. At this moment, in our time in the human race, we also have the highest levels of suicide and the highest levels of addiction rates. Why? We’re mistaking connectivity with a human connection.
What we need more of is human connection. What we are wired for as humans are the care and the reciprocity of care. There are lots of examples of scientific studies about care. The simplest that I can offer for you is that a large majority of all people unless you’re a psychopath, that’s a very small portion, will reciprocate when somebody takes the first step to give care to somebody else. Care is a never-ending loop. I have turned care into an acronym, being a military guy. The CARE acronym is Connect, Achieve, Respect, and Empower. It’s a loop and it goes through these phases.
Connect is all about building trust, achieving, and its phases of achieving are all about setting direction. You get into respect and respect is about inviting in conflict. That’s a difference of opinions, diversities of thought. Moving to confidence and finally to the contribution, which is what mutual respect is all about. That people contribute and they feel that their efforts are valued and then close with empowerment through educating, engaging, and enabling them to be the best version of what it ever is thereafter. What will happen over that period of time is those empowered will then go on to build other teams and the loop continues. They will connect, they will achieve, they will bring in respect and empower.
You released a book called, Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership. For our audience to get a little bit of a glimpse of what the book is all about and a little bit of the overarching theme of the book, what could you share for our audience?
That care loop that I talked about, is essentially section two of the book. There are three levels of leadership. Leading yourself, leading those that report directly to you, and leading those that report indirectly to you. That’s what the whole book is about. In the beginning of this show, we talked about the four Cs. That’s at the end of the book. Those are indirect reports. Those are the ones that you have an influence on but think of it like a pebble in a pond. Leadership begins with you and every single one of us is a leader. The question is, how many do we have that want to follow us? We all have the capability to lead in our own ways, but how we lead ourselves becomes a reflection on how we lead others and how we lead others then goes to reflect on how they lead others. That’s what unsolvable teams are all about.
Let’s close with the four rapid-fire questions. Number one, a book that changed your life?
Number two, a piece of advice you got that you’ll never forget.
My limits are up to me.
Number three, is there anything you wish you could go back and do it differently?
I wouldn’t have thrown a rock at my brother’s head in third grade.
Number four, what’s still on your bucket list to achieve?
I would like to go to the South and North Poles.
You’ll come back to share with us once that’s achieved. Alden, thank you much for joining us. I know your time is valuable. That is why in the name of our audience, we will forever be grateful for sharing some of your time with us.
I’m grateful for being on the show with you, Meny. Thank you for what you’re doing for everybody.
It’s my pleasure.
- Perfect Fitness
- Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership
- Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything
- The Diamond Cutter
- @Alden_Mills – Instagram
- @AldenMills – Twitter
- @UnstoppableAldenMills – Facebook
- Alden Mills – LinkedIn
About Alden Mills
Alden Mills is a three-time Navy SEAL platoon commander and was the CEO of Perfect Fitness, one of the fastest-growing companies in America. He is the author of Unstoppable Teams: The 4 Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership and Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything.
A longtime entrepreneur with more than forty patents and more than twenty-five years of experience working with high-performing teams, he lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.