Building Unstoppable Teams: Book-Talk with Inc. 500 CEO, Navy SEAL and Author Alden Mills
How do we build unstoppable teams – even when they’re remote? How do we deal with doubt and understand when it’s best to quit or just continue to push forward if it becomes hard? And how can we remain humble and keep our ego under control, to avoid letting it block our path to success?
Alden grew up on a small farm, in a small town in central Massachusetts. When he was 12, his doctor advised him to start learning chess and lead a less active life, because his asthma would stop him from playing sports. However, he didn’t want to let that define who he is. He constantly challenged his limits.
10 years later, Alden graduated from the US Naval Academy. He became a nationally ranked rower, a gold medalist in the Olympic Festival, and captain of the freshman and varsity teams at the U.S. Naval Academy. As a Navy SEAL, he led his platoon through multiple missions.
After discharge from the military, he graduated from Carnegie Mellon business school. He became an entrepreneur, building businesses in fitness, pet food, and security.
Alden studied why the Seals suffered high injury rates and learned how they were linked to outdated training methods. He created a functional training method that would reduce injuries while maximizing results. He founded Perfect Fitness, that was recognized by Inc. Magazine as the fastest growing consumer business in the country (12,000% growth over a 3-year period). He developed more than 40 patents, including the Perfect Pushup (created in 2006), Perfect Pullup, Perfect Sit-up and Perfect Ab Carver, and has sold more than 10 million units of his inventions, helping people of all fitness levels achieve their goals. If you exercise, chances are that you’ve used one of his products.
He is also an author: Alden wrote a book called “Be Unstoppable“, where he conveys life lessons to his four young sons. The book features his leadership framework for success and his personal turning points, from his experience in the business and the military.
Alden recently released his second book, “Unstoppable Teams“, on how to build and lead teams in today’s hard-changing world. Through his stories and lessons learned as a founder and CEO, Alden shares the pillars he uses to develop unstoppable teams.
There’s a lot to be learned from Alden. In our interview, we talked about how to build social connection in remote teams, the harm caused by information overwhelm, what habits make the biggest difference in his day-to-day life, leaders he admires and learned from and, of course, the books that impacted him most. Keep on reading!
What books had the biggest impact on you? Perhaps changed the way you see things or dramatically changed your path.
There have been several books throughout my life that changed my mind and put me on the path I am today. The first one is called For Entrepreneurs Only. The founder of Formula 409 cleaning products wrote it, and it opened my mind to the endless possibilities that entrepreneurship represents. In Search of Excellence and Built to Last focused my daydreaming mind into what it takes to build truly great companies. More recent books that have had a significant impact on me are The Power of Habit and The Diamond Cutter. Both represent different forces for me – the former helps me tactically with making incremental improvements in my life, and the latter aids me in how to best direct my actions strategically. I cannot stress enough the profound impact The Diamond Cutter has made on me. You must be open to it, but the power of what is taught in this book is truly life-changing.
Was there a moment, specifically, when something you read in a book helped you? Can you tell us about it?
The Diamond Cutter helped me see clearly; it helped me understand the real connection between my success and my effort. I often thought, “gee, I got lucky with x decision or y product,” but in fact, I had taken a series of actions that helped me “get lucky.” I learned that my success is correlated with the actions of giving myself without expectation of return.
I retrospected my life’s experiences and mapped out every time I gave to a cause, and found that when I gave with all my heart –when I went all-in – I would find unusual amounts of success shortly after that. I used to think it was coincidental. Now I realize these actions are connected. Here’s the best part, I feel more fulfilled and happy than I ever have been, because now I don’t skirt giving my time, I seek it out with a passion.
What five books would you recommend to young people who are just starting their career? Why?
The first two may seem self-serving, but I wrote them originally for my four boys who are just starting out on their careers – each book builds upon the other taking you from leading yourself to leading others. The next one, Mindset by Carol Dweck, helps you understand that your mindset is up to you and how you think drives your behaviors. A perfect follow-on from this book is The Power of Habit which builds upon Dr. Dweck’s work and helps you police yourself when you get stuck in a rut (which happens to all of us) and teaches you how to get out of it. Finally, The Diamond Cutter takes you on a journey about the interconnectedness of our actions in the universe we live in. The first four are all about creating habits to help you lead yourself, which in turn enables you to build and lead teams to make a difference in the world. The final book wraps it all together to remind you that your actions matter – all of them – and they can help or hinder you on your journey. Enjoy!
We’re interested in finding out more about your reading habits. How do you make time for reading? What format you prefer? Do you take notes or have any techniques to conquer the torrent of information?
At any given time, I am reading three types of books: self-help/improvement, biography, and what I call fun-fiction. The self-help books I read during breaks in my work throughout the day; the biographies I read when I need inspiration or as I finish my days work; and fun-fiction I read before going to bed.
I learned the hard way on this. I used to read self-help at night and found myself thinking about how to use the information the next day – my brain would switch on, I’d toss and turn (waking up my wife in the process – not good) and wouldn’t sleep well…at all! Now, it’s mandated (by my wife) that I only read fun-fiction at night!
How do you try to handle information overwhelm in today’s noisy world? For example: are there things that other people spend way too much doing, that you generally stay away from?
The way I handle this is through abstinence. No, seriously, the vast majority of all the information out there is not just noise, it’s distracting and more often than not it is loaded with negative messaging that I don’t want to seep into my can-do mindset. I’m trying daily to operate at the edge of my capabilities, and the last thing I need to hear is a bunch of harmful noise or distraction that makes me doubt myself or at the very least slows me down. I give myself timed moments to look at the news. When I’m seeking information, I have to watch myself because searching on the internet can very quickly take you down rabbit holes. Many times, I’ll reach out to a trusted advisor, mentor, or coach to ask for where I might find information. They can be an excellent filter, and more often than not, in the time I spend speaking with them, I learn even more than I initially expected.
You recently released your second book, “Unstoppable Teams“, where you talk about high-performance leadership. What are some examples of incredible role models that you admire, that you had a lot of leadership lessons to learn from?
There are lots of leaders out there that I admire from my first Navy SEAL Commanding Officer (and the two that followed!), to those that came before us such as Presidents Madison, Lincoln, and Roosevelts (both of them) to Winston Churchill and Ernest Shackleton, to modern-day examples such as Martin Luther King, General McChrystal, Bill Marriott Jr., the women’s US eight rowing program, Coach K, and the numerous female basketball coaches.
I’m continually searching and admiring new leaders, and many of the ones I’ve been most impressed with are women, with the remarkable and much-needed ability to emotionally connect while mentally moving you to take action. They are every bit as tough as men but better at making human connection.
Increasingly more companies are dropping their offices and creating completely remote teams. Is there any way to connect with your team, build trust and care solely in a digital environment? Or is it a disadvantage that can’t possibly be overcome (at least not over the long-term)?
I don’t believe it is a disadvantage that “can’t possibly be overcome.” I’ve built a team entirely remotely – never actually meeting any of them while finding terrific success. The key is building trust. You must consistently prove that you care for them, their well-being, and their success while driving toward completing a team goal. There are plenty of examples of distributed networks of humans coming together to make Awesome happen. You must model the way through a commitment of consistent caring. Recently, I’ve been using a wonderful new online tool called Circl.es that has some terrific team-unifying features that help people feel connected.
Persistence is key and, most of the times, we need to fail – and fail over and over again – in order to accelerate our learning, our growth, and succeed. However, the examples promoted by today’s culture (from media to movies) tend to distort reality: they oversimplify things, lead to biases by overlooking important details, make it look easier than it really was, and overall promote instant gratification. When things become hard (and they always do), we might give up too soon – only because it’s painful and our expectations were different. Have you been in a situation where you didn’t know if it’s best to quit or just push forward? Can you tell us about it and the thinking process behind it?
This is the story of my life! I don’t like the word “quit” – I prefer “pivot.” Maybe it’s semantics, or maybe it’s that the “q” word is such a four-letter word in SEAL training that we’d rather not even say it! Either way, yes, I’d have had to pivot many times in my life.
One of the hardest pivots came after spending four years launching a fitness product called Bodyrev. We raised 1.5 million dollars only to learn $1.475K ways not to launch the Bodyrev. I was down to my last $25K and more importantly, was receiving very strong advice to declare bankruptcy and “get on with my life.” That was a pivotal moment in my life. There was a very compelling and logical set of reasons to declare bankruptcy, and it was clear the product wasn’t catching on. I visualized what life would be like if I quit what I was doing – what would it feel like to give up? Who would it impact? And then I thought about having this conversation 25 years from now to my kids and how it would feel to say “don’t do what I did and quit”? I didn’t want to star in that movie, so I changed direction and invented a simpler product. It was called the Perfect Pushup. Ten million units later, I’m glad I made the pivot and didn’t choose the “q” word.Book-talk with entrepreneur, Navy SEAL and author @aldenmills: 'The vast majority of all the information out there is not just noise, it's distracting and more often than not it is loaded with negative messaging that I don't want to… Click To Tweet
In a Men’s Health article, you mentioned that when you were in some of your lowest, weakest moments, it was the negative that fueled you more than the positive. Do you have a recent example of a situation where you used this kind of reframing and overcame the obstacles?
I wish I read this question before answering the last one! But most recently, I face this challenge every time I start work on a new book. I find writing a very lonely and, at times, terrifying process. Every time I get stuck, I think about the consequences of NOT writing this book – of taking the easier path of excuses. Each time, my reframing always involves the people I care about most: my family and friends. They inspire me to keep going. Dealing with doubt is our biggest struggle in life, and the better we can get at knocking back the doubt demons the freer we are to become the best version of ourselves.
You wrote that: “You can assemble as many individual superstars as you want, but they won’t become unstoppable unless they believe in each other and in their collective mission.” Leaders need a small dose of ego in order to become the best at what they do and, with every successful mission (or project), their confidence grows and clouds their minds, believing it was solely thanks to their merits. How can we prevent our egos to get in the way and block our path to success?
It’s no easy task to remain humble. The more you succeed, the more praise will naturally be bestowed upon you. The key is keeping it in check. I do a few things to limit the swelling of my ego:
A. I don’t post my accomplishments on a wall – there is no reminder of what great “thing” I’ve recently done. My only reminders are key products that I’ve worked tirelessly to bring to market – and when I look at them, I remember how much effort and how many people helped bring that product to life.
B. I’m a father, it’s the most humbling experience there is! If you’re not, volunteer – go give back to your community, and you’ll find out just how much you still have to learn when you do this.
C. I keep a rolling log of new goals. I don’t want to miss a day – there’s so much to experience in the world, and as we age some of those experiences will be lost if we don’t seize them while we still can (such as climbing a mountain – I climbed Denali last year, and I’m glad I didn’t wait any longer to do it!).
D. I have a small team of trusted friends that I rely on to call me out if I’m getting too big for britches. We do this for each other – it’s a great way to push each other to become even better.
What’s a habit that makes the biggest difference in your day to day life?
The way I approach each day. Quite literally from the moment I wake up I make a conscious effort to focus on something I can accomplish – I ask myself (sometimes hourly) “what’s the one thing I can get done today that will put me a little closer to accomplishing a goal that would change my life?” Examples are writing, speaking, coaching, inventing, and of course, fathering. A close second is deciding who I surround myself with and what self-talk I choose to accept.
Anything else you’d like to mention about your new book?
Every single significant accomplishment in my life has been the direct result of a team. From making the varsity rowing team in high school to SEAL Team to inventing, writing, speaking, coaching, and parenting, they have all been because of a team. If someone has an audacious goal – a goal, they are not sure how they are going to accomplish, but that inspires them – it burns inside of them – then this book is for you. We are imperfect animals, we need each other, and truly great accomplishments in this world are from teams – lots of them. What difference do you want to make? What mark do you want to leave in your lifetime? If you dare to dream big then use this book to turn that dream into reality – I promise you, you’ll never look back because you’ll know how to build Unstoppable Teams. When this happens, your greatest challenge will be dreaming up greater dreams to go after… now that’s living!
This article is a sponsored interview. All the external links inside the interview respect Google’s guidelines regarding links in paid articles of any type (all external links are “nofollow” links).
Links where you can follow Alden Mills or find out more about his projects:
- His new book: Unstoppable Teams
- His previous book: Be Unstoppable
- Connect with Alden on Linkedin | Twitter
- Forbes: The Best Books on Leadership for 2019
- Alden’s keynote speaking details
- Perfect Fitness
All books mentioned by Alden Mills in our interview:
- For Entrepreneurs Only: Success Strategies for Anyone Starting or Growing a Business, by Wilson Harrell
- In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best-Run Companies, by Tom Peters; Robert H. Waterman
- Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, by Charles Duhigg
- The Diamond Cutter: The Buddha on Managing Your Business and Your Life, by Geshe Michael Roach, Lama Christie McNally
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Carol S. Dweck
- Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything, by Alden Mills
- Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership, by Alden Mills