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Dec. 8, 2022

218 Leading Unstoppable Teams with Former Navy Seal Commander & Inc 500 CEO, Alden Mills | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader

218 Leading Unstoppable Teams with Former Navy Seal Commander & Inc 500 CEO, Alden Mills | Partnering Leadership Global Thought Leader
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In this episode of Partnering Leadership, Mahan Tavakoli speaks with Alden Mills, former Navy SEAL platoon commander and Co-Founder and C.E.O. of Perfect Fitness, an Inc 500 Fastest Growing Company. Alden Mills is also the best-selling author of Be Unstoppable: The 8 Essential Actions to Succeed at Anything and Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Leadership. In the conversation, Alden Mills discusses his C.A.R.E. framework and the four essential actions of high-performance leadership. Alden Mills also shares specific strategies he uses in coaching leadership teams to higher performance levels.  

Connect with Alden Mills

Alden Mills Website 

Alden Mills on LinkedIn 

Unstoppable Teams on Amazon
Be Unstoppable on Amazon

Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

Mahan Tavakoli Website 

Mahan Tavakoli on LinkedIn 

More information and resources are available at the Partnering Leadership Podcast website:


Connect with Mahan Tavakoli:

Mahan Tavakoli Website

Mahan Tavakoli on LinkedIn

Partnering Leadership Website


Mahan Tavakoli: 

Welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm really excited this week to you welcoming Alden Mills. Alden is a three time Navy Seal Platoon commander and founder of Perfect Fitness. He is author of Be Unstoppable and the book we spend most of our time. Talking about in this conversation, unstoppable teams, the four essential actions of high performance leadership.

I really enjoyed the conversation because Alden has a lot of examples and experiences that relate well to leadership in organizations when we want our teams and organization to be unstoppable.

I'm sure you will enjoy the conversation too. I also love hearing from you. Keep your comments coming, mahan@mahantavakoli.com. There's a microphone icon on partnering leadership.com. You can leave voice messages for me there. Don't forget to follow the podcast Tuesday. Conversations with Magnificent Change Makers from the Greater Washington DC, DMV region, and Thursday conversations with brilliant global thought leaders.

Now here is my conversation with Alden Mills.

Alden Mills, welcome to Partnering Leadership. I'm thrilled to have you in this conversation with me.

Alden Mills: 

It is such a treat. I love what you do with your podcast, so I'm fired up to get into this.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I loved your book, Unstoppable Teams, The Four Essential Actions of High Performance Leadership so that's why I can't wait to learn more from you on leadership. But before we get to that, Alden would love to know about your upbringing whereabouts you grew up and how that upbringing impacted the kind of person you've become.

Alden Mills: 

Grew up in pretty unremarkable Central Massachusetts, Milltown called South Bridge, Massachusetts, , about 12,000 people or so. I would say a couple of moments of impact for me, it would really be an early moment where I had this diagnosis about having asthma. Not just asthma, but being born as the doctor pointed out with a smaller than average size set of lungs.

I bring that up because my mom was really my first leadership coach. Here I am 12 years old. I was kind of a little bit of a big man child, but wasn't a great runner, was terrible at ball sports. I go to see this doctor one thing leads to another he looked like a Danny DeVito with white wispy hair but an older one in thick Coke bottle glasses 

He looked like he was constantly smelling sour milk. And I just remember him saying Mrs. Mills, I, I know what's wrong with your son here, you see this problem. He held up these charts and he was showing how low I was below the median on both my airway and the size of the lungs.

Mom saw me immediately dejected as he says, “You know he's got asthma, He's got small and an average sized lungs. I suggest he lead a much less active lifestyle. I'll get him medication and lead to be on it for the rest of his life, I think he should learn to play the game of chess.” 

You know, I, Oh, I have totally defeated body position. Mom sends me out into the waiting room, and after a while I'm having that big pity party for myself. Tears rolling down my cheeks, and she comes out in the offensive mom position, hands on the hips, kicks my butt. Let's run with it. I'm like, Wow, chess, How am I gonna learn to play chess when I'm terrible at checkers? I bring that story up because, you know, we all, have something like that, , we're all born imperfect. We all have some kind of challenge. It may not be asthma and it may not be a physical thing. Well, we got a challenge. And mom, she kept these fingernails long and sharp, like little velo after claws. And she dug it into my forearm and she says, “Now you listen to me. I'll get you that medicine. But you define what you can or can't do, not that doctor” that turned out to be a transformational moment, not that day, I just wanted her to release the grip and you know, she would look at me, “Stand back to me” and she'd get me to say it back, but I didn't care at that moment. But, when you have someone that's very consistent. So what if you scored on your own team in basketball? Go try another sport. And she was there and dad was at work, so he didn't get the credit for that moment, but he was, right there too. He was like, “Go ahead. Try another sport, hockey's not your thing either.” 

And that's carried with me to this moment. And, when I do my executive coaching today, or leading of the companies that I have started, It is always about reminding people that nobody defines what we can or can't do but us. So I just wanted to start that off early with everybody, that that's a real theme here and that's a real theme of leadership, not managing, it's leading, dealing with the uncertainty, dealing with going into the unknown. That's what leading is about. Not about perfection, it's not about how well we can just manage some resources. It's about helping people go beyond what they originally thought they could do. And that was my first pivotal moment.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What an outstanding story, Alden, in so many different respects, whether it is the confidence that your mom gave you, but also connecting to the fact that your first book is Be Unstoppable, The Eight Essential Actions to succeed at anything. We first have to be unstoppable ourselves. So leadership is in part about our self perspective and view of what we can do leading ourselves before we try to lead others.

Alden Mills: 

I mean, Amen. Hallelujah. I'm bowing down to you Mahan. That's it. 

When I get brought up on stage to speak, which I do a fair amount of, I talk about these three levels of leadership, and I'll have the audience like, just close your eyes for a moment. I want you to imagine this beautiful, flat, deadcalm pond, totally still with water. And you drop one pebble into it. And if you do a freeze frame right after that pebble hits the water, there's about three rings that go out. Third ring furthest away from where the pebble drops the largest. And that represents your levels of leadership. The very first drop of the pebble. The pebble is the action of you that you are taking. And how you lead yourself is that first ring of influence. 

The second larger ring then becomes the teams which you lead, because teams just are nothing more in reflection of its leaders. And then finally, the third ring, which has the greatest influence, greatest impact is then the culture, and a culture is just made up of the consistent actions of multiple teams within that organization. Whether your organization is for profit or not for profit, doesn't matter. We're talking about the humanity of working together. 

So it's lead yourself, lead teams, lead culture, but it always starts with how you lead yourself.

Mahan Tavakoli:

 I love that Alden, because the big challenge that I see with a lot of leaders is they ask, How can we change the culture of the organization? And that's really important. There are things that can and should be done with respect to the culture of the organization, but as you said, first and foremost, it starts with the individual, then it goes out to the team, then the culture of the organization.

But before we go deeper into that, so here you are, 12 years old. Your mom gives you the confidence. Even though you have asthma, you can do whatever you want to do. Why decide to go into the Navy?

Alden Mills: 

Well, actually boats had something to do with that. I hold a very distinct athletic record of scoring against my own team in three or four different sports: Soccer, basketball, hockey, and lacrosse.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Alden, this is one of the things I love in reading your books, listening to some of your interviews and your approach to leadership in that you are an example of humility. Even these examples that you're sharing, you show genuine humility, and that is really important for us to be able to connect to leaders.

A lot of times, some individuals don't have the confidence to show that humility. So I wanted to underline that because what you are sharing is both humorous, but shows the humility that you have. 

Alden Mills: 

Mahan, thank you for pointing that out. I wasn't always that way. We all have levels of insecurity. We're always worried about people judging us and what they might think. And then you start to realize that the real story is in the failure. Who wants to go watch a movie where they just all talk about winning all the time? No, it's the losing that draws everybody in because we can relate with it and, you use a magic word, I'm sure we're gonna get into it, but a leader's ability to connect is either their greatest limiting factor or their greatest opportunity for success. And that starts with being able to be human about I got a whole bunch of things I'm terrible at. I know a couple things I'm good at, and there might be one thing I'm really great at. 

So going back to that sports thing, I really was bad at ball sports, but I had grown up on the water. I rode in little row boats, I mean in row boats. Not a real racing shell, but I saw this school that had this rowing and I was like, Oh, that's my sport. Like it spoke to me. I can sit on my butt and go backwards for long periods of. All I have to do is one single stroke. It's a relatively simple stroke, but it has to be perfect with seven other people in the boat. In my case, I rode eights, you could row fours or pairs, and I rode my way to the Naval Academy. I was an average student, but I became a really good rower, and I decided, The Naval Academy fun. Like, Oh, that's a path less traveled. Let's try that one out. 

I wasn't one of these kids that grew up wearing Cammies for Halloween and like, yeah, I just can't wait play Soldier Boy or something.That wasn't me. Every generation in my family had served. So there was a quite call to serve. We didn't have military awards on the walls. Dad didn't have some I love me wall about his time in the Air Force. But it was a positive experience that when it was brought up in the family around dinner table and I just started thinking, for a little while that could be interesting.

And so that's how it originally started.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

So you were at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, a great rower. You had a chance to participate in the Olympic trials, but chose not to do that. And try to join the Navy Seals. How come?

Alden Mills: 

I had been invited to the Olympic camp. I had made the first cutoff, and the Navy was supportive of the Olympic pursuit, but I would've lost my ticket, which we call a billet. Or a spot at SEAL training. By that point I had been rowing for nine years and I was like, I think I've gotten everything I really need outta this sport.

I didn't get the Olympic Gold Medal or anything like that, but it wasn't so much that it was just knowing Hey, I was good enough to make a cut like that, and it's time for me to go into service. And I really didn't want to give up that spot because I got the last spot out of the Naval Academy.

It was hard to get, that's why I moved on

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What was that like for you, Alden? 

Alden Mills: 

It was miserable. Let me explain a couple reasons why it was miserable. I am six foot three 250 pounds. When I got outta the academy, I was 220 or so, and I was really good at pullups. I could do a lot of pullups for my size, above 30. That was helpful. I was terrible at pushups. I'm not kidding you. I was like the worst. Rowers pull. They don't push. And because I had spent the whole summer trying out for the Olympic camp, all my other classmates there were 19 of us total, including me. They went into earlier classes and I got left by myself and ended up going through a winter hell week as the only officer. That was a very early experience on how lonely leading can be. 

I had several gut checks prior to that and they were mostly gut checks in the rowing world. A couple at the Naval Academy outside of the boat. But that was my next really big transformational moment.

Hell week and then getting almost medically discharged halfway through SEAL training, that became a real problem. They had figured out that I was still taking some asthma medication. I may have offered some alternative facts, shall we say, but the problem was my lungs were bleeding and I had a real problem and they pulled me out, made me do a bunch of medical tests, begrudgingly put me back in, but I had to wait five weeks and, I would say, it was one thing getting through hell week that was really hard. Hell week is that period of time where you go from a Sunday to a Friday and you get a total of about three and a half hours of sleep for the entire week. We started 122. By the end of hell week we're down to 18. One officer and myself. By the time I'm in the second phase, I'm no longer the lead officer cuz some other guys had come in. But the bigger challenge at that point was realizing, oh my God, I've gotta give up this crutch. For the last 10 years I've been taking this asthma medication and I really bring this point up because I want to talk about this today. I really had to practice faith, and when I use the term faith and what I want the listeners to hear, when I say faith, I want you to think of faith like trust squared. I'm talking about the first definition of faith in the dictionary, not the second. 

The first is about having complete confidence in someone or something other than. Other definitions have to do with religious doctrine. The reason I bring that up is that at some point, as a leader, you have to build that faith with others where they just say, You know what? I'm not quite seeing this, but I believe a hundred percent in what they're doing, so I trust them. I have faith. I'm gonna go do it. And that was a time where I really had to practice faith. And I find the more you end up practicing that, the stronger your resolve can be.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's really important Alden. Now one of the things that I know you advocate and the Special forces have done, General McChrystal, who also wrote a blurb for your book, has done a fabulous job, did a great job, both with special forces and now in his private career. It's the statement, “If the order I gave you is not the order I should have given you then execute the order that I should have given you.” That makes a lot of sense. The question in my mind though, is how does that then work with accountability? Because one of the challenges a lot of times leaders have is they say, Well, I am finally accountable for the results of the team. Therefore, they have difficulty letting go and letting the team execute. How does that work?

Alden Mills: 

The biggest first challenge with letting go is letting go with your idea of how you think it should get done. In general McChrystal's example that you just gave, he's referring to commander's intent. And when you're down range in military special operations, there's so many different things that can go wrong. You can't plan for it all. You can plan for your top three, maybe top five, worst case scenarios, have contingency plans and things like that. But at the end of the day, you have to be given guardrails. The guardrails of commander's intent, Hey, this is what I think we should get done. But if it isn't, you gotta make that play. But oh, by the way, killing civilians, harming women and children taking out critical infrastructure that was not part of this mission. Part of the mission was this particular situation, that is mission success. It will not be mission success if you stray past these guardrails, but there are lots of different ways to get that done, which means you have to be empowered and you have to be able to think on your feet and to get there, it isn't an overnight light switch. It requires mentoring. It requires scenario training. It requires saying, “Okay, I'll give you the accountability, but you also have the responsibility for that”, and as the leader, you can't abdicate that. You can delegate it, but you have to be confident enough to know, Hey, I've watched them in smaller, lower risk scenarios. They have different ways of doing things, and they work out just as well, and sometimes better than what I thought. So you have to be willing to challenge yourself when it comes to offering those kinds of scenario.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

And that's one of the challenges that a lot of organizations are having right now, especially with more hybrid work, getting to an outcome focus where the leader can enable or allow the individuals or the team to work toward that outcome rather than looking for the specific tasks and tracking those specific tasks.

So you successfully led as a Navy Seal platoon Commander a three times. Seven years into Seals. While I'm very familiar with how in many instances the Seals in my view operate very effectively as teams, how do you see some of that experience and the way Seals build and operate as teams translating to the non-military world?

Alden Mills: 

Well, I got several comments on that. The first is that I really wanna remind listeners out there that I've now been a CEO much longer than I've been a platoon commander, and it's easy to wanna be lulled into, Well, let's just do it the way the Seals do it. There are a lot of differences. And remind everybody that just because the Seals do a certain way, doesn't necessarily translate into the civilian world.

Dealing with civilians and leading civilians is much harder than leading Seals. Let me say that again. Leading civilians is much harder than leading Seals. Why? Number one, everybody has gone through an intense screening program, we've all gone through exactly the same training. We are all part of the same military. We have the same uniform we just have different rank. We have a different law called the Uniform Code of Military Justice. There is a code of law that the other people have to follow, but you could send 'em to Captain's Mass. So, remind yourself of those things. 

Now, if you ever got to that in SEAL team, you'd be a very ineffective leader. But there are lots of tenets, lots of things about SEAL mindset that are perfectly applicable to the civilian side. But I really wanna be clear about this piece. And Seals actually do a relatively good job of bringing diversity of thought into the equation. I bring up that diversity of thought because when you go through mission planning, you are actually trying to throw holes in everything.

Like ego kills. The old term Ego is not, your amigo, is a killer when it comes to mission planning. If you think one person's got the perfect plan and no one else can give different points of view on it. 

That's one thing, being able to be in a around flat hierarchy of, okay, why won't it work? Why can't it work? Let's push beyond and getting everybody feeling they're on the same playing field for giving feedback is critical. 

Two. Understanding the relationship building process and why Seals don't immediately just get thrown into the battlefield. There is a maturation period that has to occur where everybody gets to know each other, they get to know our flaws. They get to be comfortable with, Yeah, I suck at this and in what? I'm a really good at that. And when people can be that comfortable with 'em, then you're starting to build trust of the most important, and I call it the mission statement of the SEAL team. I've got your back. Everything leads to that point. That's how you're evaluated. Will this person have my back in the worst case of scenarios, are they moved from a position of selfishness to selflessness? That can be very hard to evaluate as a civilian, and most of the time it becomes the leader's job as a civilian to be selfless first and take those steps because most civilians already have their guard up because they've been dealing with lots of lousy leaders for a long period of time. Most of the time you inherit a team, you don't get to cherry pick your team. You can do some of that in Seal Team. Not all of it. So we could spend the rest of this call talking about how to translate those things, but talking about selflessness is a key component in getting ego removed from the decision. Those two are cornerstones to your success.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

They are, and I appreciate you differentiating between military service and what the Seals get to go through and teams in organizations and leading in organizations. That said to your point, there are a couple of things I wanted to underline. One is, The humility or the selflessness, which is a critical piece. The other one, most of my work is with leadership teams and the best leadership teams spend time and focus on building those relationships that you talk about where people genuinely feel they have each other's backs, rather than protecting turfs and having turf wars, which is way too often the case in leadership teams of organizations.

Alden Mills: 

You are a hundred percent correct. Thankfully and I'm being facetious on this, there's a lot of that work out there cuz the coaching I do with the leadership teams, it is all about teaching people. How do we trustworthy? It's very hard if you've grown up with a high level of distrust and you think, Well, you know what, It's just me, myself, and I, and even as a leader, people sniff that out no trust, no team, period. That's step one. 

And the biggest challenge I find is teaching people to learn how to trust each other, which means you have to learn to build connections. Gotta learn to connect.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Alden, you had the Navy Seals experience. Got your MBA had 13 plus years successfully as a CEO of Perfect Fitness, and now are coaching leaders, leadership teams. So how do you help individuals and leaders move themselves and their teams from selfishness to becoming more selfless to operate effectively as a team?

Alden Mills: 

I look at that as two different avenues of discussion. One is how do you coach a team to do it? And then the other is more macro of how do you coach the individual? 

One team I'm dealing with right now is an entire team of leaders. They're all managing partners. And they've got to learn to trust each other. So in that particular case, from a coaching perspective, this is how I approach it. I do one-on-ones with each of the five. I then do group coaching after I've taught them a certain framework that we're working on for that moment.

But the first piece of that is doing what I call around their world, and we go through this process that's on every coaching call I ever do. I do a checklist. I wanna understand their physical wellbeing. I literally want to know how they're sleeping, how they're eating. And how they're exercising and I call it, How do you see, All right, tell me how you're seeing this week.

Then I go through personal, What is occupying your energy and your mind outside of work? Tell me everything that's going on. Some could be dealing with caregiving of an elderly parent. Some could be going through a divorce. Some could have a child with disabilities that they're dealing with. Sometimes that coaching can be 45 minutes just on listening and hearing what they have to struggle with.

And then I'll get to them, tell me what's going on for work, that's what I do every single time as a set point. 

The other piece is when we first start off, I get the individuals and then as a team to answer, Gimme your 10, three and one year goals. I want two personal and two professional, but you must start with a 10 year. 

Why do you do that? Because you want to understand their imagination. When you ask about a 10 year goal, that forces them to think beyond quarter by quarter. I don't looking for them to extrapolate. I want them to go look beyond the horizon because 10 years you shouldn't be able to really see it yet, you have to believe in it. I want to see how far they do. If anybody who's listening to this does this, I will tell you when you first do the 10-3-1 drill, most of the time you'll find a 10 year is really a three year goal. A three year is really a one year goal. And a one year goal is really a smart goal that's about a quarter, and when I say smart, I'm talking about specific, measurable, actionable, realistic, timely, and goals becomes a common thread. You do that, you do the check in. Now we've got a common language that we can start getting everybody to focus on a common direction.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I love the focus that you have, first on the individual and their wellbeing before moving on to some of their professional priorities, How do you get teams to have greater trust and greater care in each other?

Alden Mills: 

The next piece of that is I create a Swim Buddy program. Swim Buddy in Seal team is the smallest team. It's two people. You go everywhere with your swim buddy and underwater, you're attached to your swim buddy. And I will create a swim body program where these leaders, they check. Every week, and I coach them to coach each other on asking and learning about each other's backgrounds and I don't want 'em even talking about business. They don't even have to talk about business at first. But part of the reason I go through the personal pieces first is, one, they have to see that I care about them. And if you don't have your health, it doesn't matter. I don't care what your ROI is, if you don't have your health. And by the way, that's how you need to be caring about everybody else.

You start to shift the filter and I talk of the filter, I use this term terminator glasses, like you're now putting on a new set of terminated glasses and you're looking for your Sarah Conner, but your Sarah Connor here is Sarah Care. We're all about learning how to care more about the whole individual.

They may work eight to 10 hours a day for you, but that's only 50% of their time, and that doesn't include the weekends. You need to know what's going on outside the work, and if you don't, you're misguided and they're not going to be fully engaged with you. So I do that Swim Buddy program.

The Swim Buddy program starts to get people talking and typically I like to do that Old young, new versus very experienced two different cultural backgrounds, we're looking for the opposites and forcing that kind of collaboration in the beginning, and then I'll rotate 'em. Okay. We've done that for a couple months. I've checked in. Yep, now we're gonna do the next one. And they actually start to get used to it, and then they'll be like, “Oh my gosh. Mahan, I never knew that you and all your family were in Montgomery County and what a cool life story you had there. And I have a totally different perspective for you now” That brings people in. And once that happens, Teddy Roosevelt, quotation that kicks off the book, everything we're doing is about this quotation, and I think he said it something like this. “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” That's leading. And then I'll throw one quotation on top of it for Abraham Lincoln and he would say, “To win a person to your cause, you must first reach their heart, the great high road to their reason.” 

So here are two great leaders w ho are talking about things a hundred to 140 years ago, and it's the same old thing.It's always about showing how much you care first. That's how it works.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It is beautiful and that's what resonated very much with me in reading your book, Alden. Care comes across and all through it.   I love the fact that you mentioned that Seals are huggers and I'm a hugger too, in that it's point of showing genuine care for others. You also have a quote by Arnie Sorenson.

I had a conversation with Stephanie Leonards, also, who is the president of Marriott right now, about Arnie's Leadership and what a magnificent leader he was to his very last days. Arnie said, If we take care of our team members, we can deliver powerful results. So that care is consistent in what you talk about. So you build in a care loop that you talk about in your book. Connect, Achieve respect and empower. We spent some time on connecting and the importance of connecting. Achieve, respect and empower? What role do they play in that care loop?

Alden Mills: 

So first of all, it's a loop for a reason. It's a loop for a reason because your care is like a flywheel. It may even better to refer to care as a flywheel. You must be constantly caring. It's not like some destination on some number line, like, Oh, we're here, we're a care organization now. No, go look at the top hospitals like Boston Children's Hospital, they're constantly trying to figure out better ways to care.

I wanna make sure everyone understands, thanks to the English language, we have lots of different ways to describe the same things being from the military, loved the idea of an acronym that actually stands for what. I'm trying to remember. It is about care, and so I turned care into the acronym of Connect, achieve respect empower, and digitally turned it into that loop, which is freely available on my website to download, but the connect piece. Why do people connect? What is the point? What are they going through in their mind? If you and I are to meet for the very first time in very short order, both of us are going through a little dance in our heads of connecting and what's that dance? What are we thinking about? What are we trying to gauge? 

The answer is we're trying to gauge, can I trust this person? And we'll give that person a little more rope and a little more rope, and then maybe over just one conversation like, You know what? This trustworthy person, I'm gonna spend more time with that person. I wanna get to know that person more. 

The art of connecting is extraordinarily important for a leader. You may be the greatest spreadsheet analysis person on the planet, but if you can't connect. I'm sorry. You're not gonna be nearly as effective with that beautiful brain of yours. 

But I don't want people to overthink this.We all are built unless we're a sociopath, psychopath to respond to care. It's like you walk into a grocery store, you hold the doors for someone behind you, and guess what typically happens? That person goes, Oh, thanks, and they took behind them unless they're in a mad rush to see if there's someone behind them to hold the door for them. That's called care reciprocity. As I mentioned earlier in this podcast. Leaders have to take the first step again and again and again, and you gotta prime the care flywheel. You gotta prime it because people have been jaded from so many times of like, Yeah, I thought I could trust this person but I couldn't. But guess what? They'll usually be willing to try again if you're consistent, so you get the connect piece. That's the goal there. 

The achieving piece. When you walk in, you don't initially just have a team. You're a group. And what is one of the key things of moving someone from a group to a team? It's consolidating their focus towards achieving something. Teams come together to achieve things. Somebody goes and wins a Super Bowl on one team. It will never be the same Super Bowl team again. A SEAL team that goes off and does a mission and comes back. Osaba Bin Laden. Never the same to Seals again. 

Teams, they have a process of building up, going, achieving something, breaking apart, and then rebuilding again. That's a normal process. It's a healthy rejuvenation or renewal. 

Now, from the connecting achievement, I wanna warn people, these are not linear. It's not sequential. Like first I've gotta build trust and then I gotta achieve. No, it doesn't happen like that. You have to go achieve something and you're being brought in to achieve something, and you're gonna constantly be building trust while you're doing it. So they're layering on top of you. But where most leaders fall short is in the third step. 

And the third step is respect. Respect, I think, kind of gets a bad rap, and here's why. It's gotten so indoctrinated into our HR language of we must learn to respect each other and get along well in the sandbox. Well, that's not the real goal of respect. It's not to just get along and let's all be friends and sing Kumbaya.

Actually, we need friction, and friction gives us forward progress. The goal of respect is to get to contribution. That's the goal. To get there means we must invite the conflict in. That's very important. Conflict leads to confidence, leads to contribution. That is the equation for respect. To build respect means you face conflict. That's friction. My hand says, Alden, I think we should go left. And den says, Man, I think we oughta go right? Okay, we got conflict. Mahan goes, You don't understand. I'm the boss. I said, We're going this way, or Mahan says, Huh, that's really interesting. I'd like to understand why you think we should go the opposite way. Holds his point of view and says, The floor's yours, leans in is clearly listening, and I can go through a whole bunch of different ways to listen, but you're listening to understand me, which is the highest point of listening. Alden feels respected because you've given me the opportunity to really show my point of view, perhaps show some of my genius. You may decide, You know what? I didn't have that information. I'm gonna do that. Or maybe you offer me information that I didn't have. You don't have to take my decision, but now you've given me the respect of my point of view. I'm gonna lean in for you. Now we've crossed the divide from a group to a team, and from there we get into empower. And Empower is all about enabling, engaging, educating to get people in the best position possible as we give accountability and responsibility.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

What an outstanding way, Alden, to describe this care loop. And I want to touch on your point on respect, which is one of the biggest challenges that I see in many organizations. As you said, people have confused this respect or psychological safety and Amy Edmondson also gave you a nice blurb for your book.

She writes a lot about psychological safety, where they see it as lack of friction. Contrary to that, to your point, actually respect means inviting conflict. So there is high intellectual friction, low social friction, which builds confidence and that contribution. So that's one of those areas that I think we have huge challenges.

In many of the conversations that I see in organizations where people think respect is being differential and not voicing opinions and not disagreeing. While to your point, no respect means surfacing that conflict.

Alden Mills: 

A hundred percent. And I like the way you put that low social friction, that, pieces off the table because you're gonna be respectful to me like, Okay, well I want to hear your point of view. If you start going, you know, berating me and saying, Well, that's the stupidest idea I've ever heard, and all that kind of stuff, Well, I'm not gonna respect you, and you just killed it all. And why does all that happen? That happens because the leader's feeling insecure and that kind of brings you back to connect. Because if the leader's insecure, you're gonna be very poor at connecting at a deep level because that requires you to be vulnerable. And the more vulnerable you can be, the more you'll bring people in.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Vulnerability is an area that leaders over the past couple of years have heard a lot about, but have a tough time with. What is the appropriate level of vulnerability?

Alden Mills: 

First and foremost situation dictates let's say somebody is facing, doing a big layoff. I was just coaching somebody the other day and they are facing a 25% layoff and I know there was some person who did some video on LinkedIn and there was some leader and kind of went overboard on the vulnerability where maybe it was not viewed as sincere. I don't have an opinion on that piece. The point about that is making sure you are able to empathize versus sympathize. And vulnerability is about giving a window into you of saying, “Hey, I'm expressing an emotion that I'm like you too. I'm scared about something. I have fear. 

You know, we have two basic emotions and everything else can be derived off of it. Love and fear. And being able to express those emotions at certain times authentically. Authentically, not thinking, well, this is what I think they want to hear. Saying, Hey, this is what I'm feeling right now. This is where we're at. Can be very powerful in getting other people to say, Yeah, you know what, I'm there too. Okay, well, if he's feeling that or she's feeling that, well then it's normal to feel that way. Now let's get after it and let's overcome that fear, because that's what a leader is battling. How to overcome the fear. It could be the fear of the insecurity. It could be the fear of judgment, fear of embarrassment, fear of doubt. You pick it. They're all based on fear. 

And a leader's job is to be able to use your reas stat of vulnerability to understand when is the appropriate time, which always comes back to connecting. 

You know, is it helpful if everybody is crying for you to come out and just cry too? Because it just felt like, well, I should just mirror what they're doing. That may not be the right answer, but being able to understand that, hey, you just laid off 25% of your folks and they're grieving and understand that grief and being able to be helpful in that, that's vulnerable. So it's very hard to just offer a simple solution that says, Oh, just do this. Be authentic. Be your human self. I talk a lot about congruency when I'm coaching, and the congruency I'm referring to is the connection between the head. The heart and the gut. Consider the three intelligence centers. Our logic, our emotion, and our desire.

Congruency is lining those up and being very consistent, whether it's in the good times or the bad times. So people always know what they can expect from you. If you are not consistent like that. Then people are always left wondering, who am I gonna get today? And that will come to help answer anybody's question of vulnerability.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

It's something that needs to be authentic to the individual leader as they reflect on their leadership of their teams. Alden, whether it's with unstoppable Teams, which is an outstanding bookland leading teams, or be unstoppable, which is focus primarily on how individuals can be unstoppable.

You have a lot of both great stories, but great frameworks for leaders to know how they can achieve that authenticity for themselves and lead their teams most effectively. In addition to your own books, are there any practices or resources you typically find yourself recommending to leaders that you are guiding?

Alden Mills: 

I'm not trying to put a personal plugin for this, but my third book, which I'm in the middle of writing now, and I've created a course around it and I speak a lot about it, is Unstoppable Mindset. And I've created a four-part course on a unstoppable so mindset to deal with habits and attitudes and focus and that is a key component because the mindset is really about addressing things that you can control and the more a leader knows about what you can control, the more you're able to help others control those things. 

I really enjoy Conscious Leadership. I've read that book. I like what they do. I think we're very simpatico on that. I also like Confident Mind. I like the approach even though he taught at West Point. But those are really helpful in giving additional frameworks for how to address different elements of leading yourself that would be Confident Mind versus leading others that would be Conscious Leadership.

Mahan Tavakoli: 

I love those recommendations, how can the audience find out more about you, your course, your books, How can they connect with you?

Alden Mills: 

My website, which is www.alden-mills.com

Mahan Tavakoli: 

Thank you so much for joining the conversation.

Alden Mills: 

What a treat. Keep inspiring future leaders and current leaders. Thank you.