The following is a conversation between Alden Mills, Author of Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Teams, and Denver Frederick, the Host of The Business of Giving.
Denver: Almost every field of endeavor could benefit from looking at the best practices from other fields and embracing the ones that make sense for them. For instance, do you think your organization could benefit from exercising the leadership and team-building practices of the Navy SEALS? My next guest answers that with a resounding “Yes!” He is Alden Mills, a former Navy SEAL platoon leader, and author of a wonderful book titled Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Teams.
Welcome to The Business of Giving, Alden!
Alden: It is an honor to be here, Denver, and I love your podcast.
Denver: Thank you so much. You know, your first book was Be Unstoppable, where towards the end, you talked about team building a little bit. What was the journey from that book to writing Unstoppable Teams?
Alden: First of all, I love that you picked up on that connection about Be Unstoppable, and it is. It was the beginning of a series that I’m working on. But a little context of Be Unstoppable for all the listeners. Be Unstoppable was originally a just-in-case letter for my four boys. When you go off for a SEAL mission, you have to write a just-in-case letter. The idea behind that is if you were to pay the ultimate sacrifice, they would hand over a flag and a handwritten letter from you.
I started that endeavor 10 years ago, and by the time I finally got to the conclusion of the book, it became a parable. And at the end of the parable, I explained these, or throughout the parable, I explained these eight actions of what it means to succeed in anything. The first seven actions are all about persistence on an individual level. The final one, which is an acronym UPERSIST, “T” stands for team up, and I tease what the four essential actions to high-performance team building is all about in the final chapter.
A team is nothing more than a reflection of its leader.
Denver: Nice segue. What’s the first thing, Alden, they teach you at SEAL training school?
Alden: The very first thing they teach you is learning to lead yourself. You must understand that we’re a platform, and there are very few things that we can control, but the things that we can control become a reflection of how we are going to help others control their own controllables. And I often will say that a team is nothing more than a reflection of its leader.
The large majority of everything they do in SEAL training is, first and foremost, getting inside your head and starting to understand that you are much more powerful than you give yourself credit for.
Denver: Let me pick up on that because I spend a good deal of time inside my head, and there’s always a lot of chatter going on. It’s the head versus the heart. There’s a whiner; there’s a whisperer and all the rest of it. Talk about those conversations.
Alden: So you’re talking about a couple of characters, voice characters that I introduce the reader to in Unstoppable Teams in the first chapter. I introduced them through a story that occurred to me while we were going through the initial phases of just classing up, just starting SEAL training. We had this character who talked in a big Southern accent, and he walked with a limp because his left butt cheek had been blown off by a rocket-propelled grenade in Vietnam. I’ll save the listeners the entire story. It’s all in the book.
But he essentially says in his deep Southern accent, “Do you know what my job is? My job is to create a conversation between here and here,” and he moves his index finger from his temple down to his heart, “a conversation that’s going to drive you to make a decision.” The decision he goes on to talk about is you’re either going to stick it out, or you’re going to quit. While you go through this conversation, you’re going to have to decide how much you’re willing to pay — that’s how he would say it – how much you’re willing to pay, how much you’re willing to sacrifice. What are you willing to give up to gain this thing that we call Navy SEAL training?
I use that conversation and reference that conversation throughout everything else I’ve done in life. And yes, I was a SEAL platoon commander three times over, but I’ve been a CEO longer than I’ve been a SEAL. I’ve worked in charity groups for years, and every single thing that I’ve ever come across, any hardship, it’s always been about that conversation: the conversation of the whiner, these negative thoughts of why we can’t do something: the doubt, the fear, those things that block us from our true potential; and then there’s the whisperer. I think of that whisperer as somebody that is a voice deep down inside of our soul that says, “Get up. Try again.”
But it’s very hard to hear the whisperer when the whiner is coming at us from what we’re hearing, perhaps what we’re watching on TV, what we have been taught from teachers, to our family, to our coaches. Those become our beliefs, and some of our beliefs become limiting. When we rub up against the limiting belief, the whiner goes into overdrive. Usually, that occurs when we’re going into something where we don’t know the outcome. We’re facing the unknown. The stakes are high. We could fail. Oh my—
Denver: And in some ways, the whiner is actually a part of you and it’s not a bad part of you, it’s trying to protect you. It doesn’t want you to fail, so it’s trying to protect you, and it doesn’t have bad intent. Sometimes people don’t look at it that way, but that’s what its role is.
Alden: That’s exactly how I described it in the books. It’s like, look, we all have the whiner. It’s not going away. Neuroscientists will call it our negativity bias. We are built with this survival mechanism. Not a thrive mechanism, a survival mechanism.
Denver: It’s that inner critic.
Alden: Correct. And so, when I hear that inner critic, and that’s what I want readers to come away with on this is, “Great. You’re starting to hear the whiner? That’s a good thing. Now, let’s put it in its place and let’s use some tools to make sure that the whiner doesn’t stop us.”
Denver: There you go. Before we get into the teams, I want to spend a moment on how you define a team and what’s the difference, Alden, between a team and a group?
Alden: If I were in front of a large audience, I would draw a number line, a continuum, and on one side of the continuum is selfish. I just write it down below: selfish. On the other side of the continuum is selfless. Now, we all have selfish drivers. We have things because we have an ego; we have needs and wants, and it’s normal. It’s an absolutely normal thing. We all have it.
On the other side of the continuum is this selflessness, and getting there is what a team is all about, and how we move through that continuum… It’s very difficult to just show up in the selfless environment. Everybody shows up with these different needs and wants. And in the beginning, they’re all about “What’s in it for me?”
Denver: Sure. We all have our agenda.
Alden: Yes. And that’s how a group begins. We all come together, and we’re like, “Yes. We think we like this higher purpose thing, but am I going to get paid? Or do I get time off? Or am I going to get a medal out on this? Or what recognition do I get?”
And then something unusual will happen. A leader will come along, and a leader will display the first acts of selflessness; a selflessness, where they will…leaders always will have to take that first step. And by the way, it may not be the team leader that does it. It could be somebody else on the team that says, “You know what? I’m doing this because I believe in what the greater thing is.”
And then a series of cascading events can occur if they’re following the formula of what it means to move from a group of individuals of selfish wants to aspiring to a selfless purpose. When that occurs — and hint, it all has to do with our most powerful, basic emotion– how much we care… and how much people feel cared for because once they start feeling cared for, they will start to dare. But they need to know that their basic needs, wants, desires are going to be taken care of so they’ll surrender to something that’s greater than themselves. When that happens, now we’re moving into the higher performance team dynamic of selflessness.
Denver: Fantastic. You discuss, Alden, the importance of that care-based leadership, and CARE is actually an acronym, which represents the four actions in the title of the book. And I want to ask you about each, why it’s important, and maybe a key move that leaders or aspiring leaders can make to realizing it. So let’s start with the word CARE with the “C.” What does the “C” stand for?
Alden: “C” stands for “connect,” and thank you for bringing up the point upfront about a loop. I definitely, even though I just described things on a linear line of selfish to selfless, I’m only just helping people understand that’s the difference between groups and teams. But to get there, it’s like expanding a Slinky of a series of loops, right?
Denver: Yes, you’re right.
Alden: It’s a never-ending effort to show how much you care, and care starts first with connecting. And if you think about this, why do we connect with one another in the first place? It’s like when you were interviewing me before we even did this, you were connecting like, “Can I trust him to show up on time? Can I trust him that he’ll offer something that my leaders will be helped by it, and it won’t make me look like an idiot? That’s a basic—
Denver: You read my mind!
Alden: Yes, but that’s what “connect” is really. That’s the goal of connecting with others, is to first build trust. If we can’t have trust, forget ever moving on that continuum towards selflessness. How do we do that? We do it through communication. We do it through competency, credibility, accountability, integrity, a whole host… and there’s books just written on how we build trust. But at the end of the day, the single, most important driver of all those other pieces that I talked about with building trust is consistency.
If you’re not consistent — I don’t care how great your integrity is or your character or your accountability, but if you’re not consistent, people aren’t going to know who’s showing up today. Is it the Denver that’s going to show up five minutes early for the podcast? Or is it the Denver who’s like, “Sorry. I had more important things to do today,” Don’t-worry-about-me kind of attitude. No.
The consistency — because we will all fail. At some point, we will all fail at “I didn’t really nail the communication in the way I should have.” Or “My competency got a little ding today because I thought I knew more than I did, or I didn’t ask,” blah blah blah. But if I’m consistent — consistent about being candid and about being open and transparent — then we’ve got a platform on which the other three actions will build upon.
Denver: That’s a wonderful point you make, Alden, because when I think of the worst bosses I’ve ever had in my life, the phrase we’ve all used with them is “I wonder what side of the bed they got up on this morning.” And you do not want to work in an environment depending on the side of the bed because sometimes they embrace you; they’re charming, and other times, they’re going to rip your head off. And you don’t want to go to work every day, wondering which one, Jekyll or Hyde, is going to be there.
Teams come together for one reason, and one reason only: to achieve something.
Denver: The “A” in CARE is for “achieve.” Tell us about that.
Alden: Teams come together for one reason, and one reason only: to achieve something. That’s the whole purpose of a team. Let’s not make any mistake about it. It’s not about standing around the water cooler saying, “We’re the water cooler club this week. We’re the watercooler team. No. There are hobbies for clubs and groups for doing different events and things, but teams come together to achieve something.
The reason “achieve” is such an important piece is that it sets the direction. It sets the direction of what the team’s going to do. We just identified the main character flaw or the main missing link to building trust is inconsistency. There are now a couple more challenges when it comes to “achieve.”
One thing leaders will mistake is the moment they set the direction, they think everybody’s bought in, but they give no meaning to the mission. They just say, “This is where we’re going. We want this.” Nobody’s bought in. They’ve just been told. They’re being directed. That becomes another problem. Once the direction occurs, then they are told, they tell each person, “This is what you have to do. This is what you have to do.” They give no assumption to thinking they could actually get to that position and do something their own way.
And you’ll hear people, they’ll say all the time, ” You should never assume.” In some cases, that’s true. But in other cases, after you’ve gone through the hiring process and brought people onto your team, give them enough credit to assume they know how to get some things done. You’ll check in on them and assess progress, but give them the space to try different ways to get to achieve whatever it is you’re trying to achieve.
Denver: Do not micromanage them.
Alden: Yes, because once people then start going “They’re just going to tell me what to do every day,” then this goes on vacation and they’ll just decide “I’m just waiting for the boss to tell me what to do next.” And then when that happens, then you’re dead in the water. You’re now just a directed group.
Denver: I think what they say is that your brain starts working the moment we wake up in the morning, and it stops as soon as I show up at work. And that would be what happened in those cases when you’re just a… you don’t have to think, you’re going to be told.
Alden: The best thing team leaders can do is: give them enough space to at least scuff their knees. Don’t let them hang themselves; that’s another piece, and we’ll talk about that later. But that is one of the big things.
And then they also forget and they don’t dig deep enough to give appreciation for what each team member is dealing with. That is particularly important during times like this where we’re all working remotely. You may have one team member that has a blended learning environment in their home and a blended work environment, and they’re trying to get everything put together, while you have another team member, that’s totally isolated, has no human contact whatsoever.
Each one of those has totally different emotional needs. And if you treat them the same and think of them as “They’re just pieces of machinery, and they’re going to get this, this, this, and this done,” you’re going to fail badly. And more importantly, they’re going to be really hurting.
Denver: That’s really interesting. I was speaking to somebody about the homeless issue, and the places where they’ve been able to address the homeless issue down to zero is when they’ve known the names of every single homeless person in that community. And it kind of underscores your point of: If you treat people as individuals and not just cogs who are all the same, you will get completely different outcomes on the other end.
Alden: Denver, so I talk about this in length and people will — we could spend this entire podcast just talking about “achieve” because there’s so many mistakes that people make there that you can’t get to a team environment. You get stuck in this direct group environment. But one of them is they immediately jump into a professional conversation instead of starting off their meeting, starting off their conversation with, “Hey, how are we feeling today?”
Denver: And really mean it.
Alden: And mean it! Let’s not forget what are the physical components. “How are we sleeping? Are we eating well? Are you actually healthy? How are you feeling?” Get from that physical point, then we go to the emotional point. “What’s going on on the home front? What are you experiencing right now? Anything we can help you with?”
“I’m taking care of my elderly mother, and we’re going through end of life, and it’s really hard.” OK. Stop right there. We’re not even going to talk professional right now. Now, we’re all coming to your side and we’re going to tell you, “You know what? We don’t want you to tune in on this. How about we send you some meals?” And then all of a sudden, what happens? They go, “Oh my God, we didn’t even expect this.” They start to lean in. And they’re like, “I want to give back to the people that have done this for me.”
Denver: Changes everything. Absolutely changes everything.
The “R,” respect. Speak about that, Alden.
Alden: That’s the bridge. We’re crossing the chasm at that point. Once we have gotten through achieving and really setting the direction and aligning the mission with the meaning, this is where most people stumble, and this is where we become a team, and that is building out mutual respect. Why? What’s so important about mutual respect, and how do you do it? It’s counterintuitive. It isn’t just, “OK. Let’s all be nice and sing Kumbaya together.” No. That’s not the real point of respect.
The real point of respect and the way you get it is by the leader invites conflict in. Now, how do you do that? First of all, when I refer to conflict, I’m referring to respectful conflict. Let’s say I’m the leader and Denver is the follower or on the team. And I say to everybody,” Hey, are we missing anything?” Denver raises his hand, he goes, “Yes. I don’t think we should be going left, boss. I think we should be going right. And here’s why.” Boom, boom, boom. If Alden goes… or looks at Denver like a nail popped up and I’m going to be the hammer to slam it back down and say, “I give the ideas. You don’t tell me what to do.” Blah blah blah. Well, game over. Denver’s going to just shut down and go, “Forget it! I’m not going to take that.–“
Denver: Whatever you want. I’m mailing it in at that point.
Alden: “–Do whatever you want. I’m just here for the ride.” but if Alden goes, “Whoa. Denver, you know what? You brought up some good points. Does anybody out there have some other ideas about going right? Because Denver’s saying we should go right.” “I think so, too. And I think this is like…” “Oh, hey. These are great ideas. That’s new information. I didn’t have that, or I wasn’t thinking clearly. We’re going right.”
What just happened? I invited the conflict in, I put my ego aside. I put myself in Denver’s shoes. Denver came up with some really respectful, good points. He didn’t just go, “You’re a blooming idiot. We should all be going right.” Then that just puts everybody in the corners, and we started to go fisticuffs. But you were respectful, and you came up with great ideas, and a couple of other people brought out some other ideas, I just shifted, and you have just gone, “Whoa! He just listened to my idea. He embraced it and now, my team is using my idea, and we’re going to the right.” Denver’s going to go to bed at night; when he gets up in the middle of the night to go pee, he’s going to be like, “I think I’ve got another idea!”
Why does that happen? Because conflict goes to confidence, and confidence builds to contribution, which is the end goal of respect. Once we have people who feel mutually respected, in their point of view, their idea can get a fair shot of being heard — you don’t have to accept them, but they’ve got to be heard, and they’ve got to be heard authentically — Then you have contributors, and then everybody is vested in building out the team. And now, we’re in a selfless point of view.
Denver: And another way you could probably do that, Alden, is to ask me what I think before you even speak because so often, what happens when the leader speaks first, we have a very narrow standard deviation around the leader. But before I know where the leader is coming from and my opinion’s given, I’m not going to be afraid to say… that’s how you get a divergence of views, I guess.
Alden: That is a super great point. I typically talk about the leader saying the first thing, because that’s usually what happens.
Denver: It is. Yes.
Alden: “OK. We’re going to the left. Now, anybody have any ideas?” And it’s going to take somewhat of a fair amount of courage to go “pfft” and then the leader will get the message and go the next time around, “Hey, what am I missing? Or what are we missing? What do you think we should do? Does anybody have another idea on that?”
Denver: “E” is “empower.”
Alden: Now, we’ve moved from a team, mutual respect, and now we’re getting into high-performance, when everybody starts to feel like owners. And how does that happen? Now, they all feel that they are enabled for success. You bring in three kinds of education: internal, external, on-the-job training. They’re constantly in this learning environment. You’re keeping the experience gap closed as possible. As new team members come in, the young ones are getting mated up with the more experienced ones. And I say young, not in age but in experience level. That’s very important to close the gap. And now, everybody feels like they have a true ownership stake. Now, they’re high-performance.
And eventually, the loop is closed. We’re empowered. Why is it closed? Because when new team members come in, you go through the process. “Hey, we’re connecting with you. Let me tell you what we’re doing. This is the direction we’re going.” “Oh, you have an idea?” Respect. “Oh, we just used your idea. You’re owning this direction. Here we go.” And eventually, people will spin out of the loop, and then what do they do? Connect, achieve, respect, empower. And so the Slinky goes.
Denver: So what happens when this CARE loop is applied, as you just described, to the three lines of leadership, which you described in the book? Tell us about those and the impact that that has.
Alden: So when we were talking about the three lines of leadership, number one, the leading starts first with you and it starts inside here. There is an inside game. The inner game. This inner game is all about your mindset. That sets up how you deal with others, the outer game, which takes you to the second level of leadership, dealing with your direct reports. And then you empower your direct reports to take the CARE loop and apply it to your four key constituents: customers; contributors; coworkers that are not on your team directly, but their results have a direct impact on your results; and then finally, the communities in which you operate.
In some of the organizations that I’ve coached, we’ve literally assigned team members to each of those four pillars and said, “Now, you go out and figure out ways that we can show how much we care about our customers, about our coworkers, about our contributors — they could be vendors, suppliers — and our community. Now, when that happens, we have a force-multiplying effect. In the book, I call it the 10X advantage. And now, we’re unstoppable.
Unstoppable teams will embrace every problem saying, “OK. Where’s the opportunity?” The problem will make us stronger.
Denver: There you go. How would an unstoppable team approach a problem, particularly an unexpected one that just seems to arise out of nowhere?
Alden: First and foremost: Unstoppable teams will embrace every problem saying, “OK. Where’s the opportunity?” The problem will make us stronger. The problem provides friction. If the immediacy of the problem, all it does puts us on our heels, then we’re in a fight or flight reaction mode.
Denver: Got you.
Alden: The whole important piece of this is leaning into it going, ‘Whoa. We didn’t see this coming, but this is a real opportunity. How can we figure out ways to learn from this?” If everybody has that kind of a mindset, the problem then gets put on the table and looked at from all points of view. I guarantee you, the problem will get solved either by your direct teammates on the table, or as you extrapolated out, to the four constituents of your team.
… every single person actually has a quest. They want to have some fulfillment. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves.
Denver: One of the things that I find interesting is that on a SEAL team, every member is of equal importance to every other member. And you have a rowing background, and I would imagine that happens when you row as well. Unlike a basketball team or a football team, you’re all in it together. Do you think that that can be replicated in the business world?
Alden: Do I think it can be replicated? I have replicated it. I’ve seen it firsthand. Absolutely. We’re all humans here. You don’t have to go through SEAL training to get this, and you don’t have to go through Division 1 rowing like I did through college to understand that every single person actually has a quest. They want to have some fulfillment. They want to be a part of something greater than themselves. The biggest challenge will be, which I didn’t discuss earlier in “empower,” is giving away your power, Mr. or Mrs. Leader, to everybody else. And the paradox of that is when you give that power away, it comes back to you.
So the biggest challenge, we’re all dealing is within ourselves. It’s within our insecurities and our ego. It’s very hard to get to the team dynamic piece because as John Wooden would say, the famous UCLA coach, “It’s amazing what you can accomplish when nobody cares who gets the credit.”
Denver: That’s what he said. That’s right.
Alden: And so that’s what we’re dealing with here. We’re dealing with the human dynamic of selfishness. And if everybody’s not worried about who gets the credit, then everybody who’s on that team is going to get an amazing amount of credit because there’ll be a part of something that no one could do by themselves.
Denver: And they’ll end up getting the credit anyway because it comes back. It’s when you don’t try to hold on to the credit, that it all…
Alden: If you give it away, the more it comes back.
Denver: The more it comes back. Yes. But it must be tough, I guess, and I’m sure you coach people who are leaders and have spent their entire careers trying to get this power. And then when they finally get it, you’re advising them: give it away.
Alden: Give it away. And not only am I advising them to give it away, they also have to show how much they care first. The first quotation in the book is Teddy Roosevelt’s quotation from 1920, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Denver: That’s not a bad Teddy Roosevelt.
Alden: Yes. Well, I don’t know. I figured he thought about all that. But that’s the whole point of this. It is: how do you show how you authentically care?
When we go off into the battle zone for SEAL team, it’s not that we have a death wish, and we can’t wait to die for our country today. It’s not at all about what it’s about. But, where we end up committing ourselves to giving the ultimate sacrifice is to each other, because we know each other would; they’ll stand in harm’s way for us.
That dynamic is no different from the battlefield to the boardroom, to a nonprofit. It’s probably even a higher value in some nonprofits because–
Denver: You’re right.
Alden: –people are so hungry for more purpose-driven results in their life then realizing they got sold a bill of goods. They wake up at around 50 to 55 and go, “Wait a second. I’ve worked all this time to be in this ZIP code, or to have this kind of car, or to have this kind of bank account. And I’ve never been more unhappy in my life.”
And then you go take them to a school and have them read to a bunch of inner-city kids, or take them down to a park and get kids to interact with animals, and they start to go, “Oh my God. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.”
…this is a law in nature, for every amount of uncertainty, there is always, always an equal amount of opportunity.
Just because there’s fog, doesn’t mean we can’t navigate. It just means we have to use different systems to navigate.
Denver: I had a friend who worked in the hotel industry and was about 50 or 55 as you said, and woke up one morning and realized that they had spent their entire career trying to get people to click their website as opposed to another hotel. And you just kind of say, “Really? That’s what I’ve done for the last 20 years?” And there can be an empty feeling that comes with that.
Speaking to SEAL teams, it’s all about also training for a crisis. What would be some of the lessons from that training that we would be well-served to keep in mind during the coronavirus pandemic?
Alden: First thing you have to understand is the definition of a crisis. A crisis is nothing more than a flashpoint of we’re bumbling along, going in certainty, and then Boom! Crisis! Or in a SEAL team, boom! Ambush. We go from certainty to uncertainty really quickly. And the moment you appreciate that we have gone from certainty to uncertainty, that is very important to understand that,…because the immediacy of uncertainty, it puts you back on your heels; you go into reaction mode. The next thing you must understand, and this is a law in nature, for every amount of uncertainty, there is always, always an equal amount of opportunity. However, it comes in a different form.
I was on a panel with the head of the leadership department from Harvard, Dr. Linda Hill, and she had described it as a fog. I was like, “Yes. That’s a great way to describe uncertainty, Dr. Hill.” And guess what? Just because there’s fog, doesn’t mean we can’t navigate. It just means we have to use different systems to navigate. Before we were driving along certainty and we’re on our ship, and it’s line of sight, I’m going right along. But now I’ve got to use sonar, look under the water. Now, I’ve got to use radar above the water. I got to use the GPS. You might move slower in the beginning, but that is a really important thing.
And the third thing to understand is the moment of uncertainty, everybody responds to crisis differently. Remember, we will naturally go inward. The moment we go to uncertainty, we get selfish. So their safety level, Mr. And Mrs. Leader, is of your utmost importance. And safety for people means different things for different people. Take a moment; take a step back; forget and about the business goal for a moment, and huddle up your team to say, “OK. What safety do you — how are you dealing with it? What are you dealing with? Understand their safety needs.
Once you take care of their safety needs, then you can put a structure in place — that’s the second “S” — that will help build a bridge to getting them back to serving. But if you don’t take care of their safety needs during uncertainty, you will not get them to a point of selflessness. They will stay in their selfishness, focused on their own personal safety needs.
Denver: A little bit like Maslow’s hierarchy. You just have to do it in that kind of sequence if you’re going to be able to be successful. Do you have any thoughts, Alden, about the kind of adjustments leaders and unstoppable teams have to make to remain unstoppable and keep the teams engaged at a time when everybody is virtual?
Alden: Just what I mentioned earlier, the first thing is you’re going to have to overcommunicate, and you’re going to have to overcommunicate on the more personal level of things. If you’re not a great empath, time to learn something new because that’s what uncertainty is going to teach you. And that means, especially remotely, if you can’t see them, call them, talk to them, hear the tone of their voice, go through what I call: going around their world.
Start physically. How are we doing? Are you getting outside? Are you exercising? I call it SEE — sleep, eat, exercise, in that order. That is the priority. And the exercise I’m referring to isn’t trying to be a triathlete. It’s just getting outside, getting their heart rate up for 30 minutes, but keeping them healthy. Then part two, understanding personally, emotionally, what are they dealing with? What are they struggling with? How can you help with that? And then you get to professional. But if you stay transactional and don’t build the relationship, you’re going to find that you’re going to have a really disconnected group of individuals.
Denver: Both have to happen, but the individual has to happen first before you get to the professional.
Alden: And Denver…yes. And I just want to bring this piece up. This is an amazing opportunity to build tighter teams. This is a time where you get to have some one-on-one conversations with people and really have a deeper conversation than you would have before. Use this as an opportunity to get to know people, and get to understand what really motivates them and helps them.
Denver: Inside their houses now, you know what I mean? You can see their lives around them, their dogs or kids, whatever the case may be. Also, when you talk about that, I think about the point you made earlier about consistency because I think a lot of leaders did this at the beginning of this crisis, but they begin to wear out a little bit. And the fact of the matter is you have to be consistent, and you have to be persistent with this.
Alden: You do. And I’m not saying that you have to do your Monday morning Zoom call at 7:00 AM. We’re always doing a Zoom call. That’s communication. So there’s lots of other ways to communicate. You can say, “Hey, you know what? This week, we’re not going to do the Zoom call. We’re going to do one-on-one walk and talk. So I want everyone to have headsets on, and let’s all go for a walk together.” Or “We’re going to do our — I’ll talk to you each individually for half an hour or 15 minutes or whatever.” That’s 100% fine. Stay committed to being consistent with communication that covers the mental, the emotional, and the physical of what they deal with daily.
Denver: Let me close with this. You are a wonderful storyteller, Alden, so instead of asking you to tell us a specific story, why don’t you choose one that helps illustrate some of the points that you’ve just made?
Alden: So we talked about a lot of different things. We’ve talked about dealing with your mindset. We’ve talked about the four actions of the CARE loop — connect, achieve respect, empower. We’ve talked about the three lines of leadership and how the CARE loop needs to be used on four pillars, which are the community, and the customer, and the contributor, and the coworker. There’s a lot. It’s hard. It ain’t complicated, but it’s hard. It’s hard to do it consistently.
And I’ll leave you with this last story as a way to remind yourself that when you’re like, “I don’t think I really nailed that communication,” or “I don’t think I…didn’t achieve it the right way,” or “I didn’t invite the conflict in, I forgot to do this. I shouldn’t have done that” blah, blah, blah. Look, we’re humans. We’re going to make mistakes. But I want you to remember this one story because this story will help motivate you every day to get up there and try again and listen to the whisperer.
It was my most terrifying moment in SEAL training, and that most terrifying moment was doing my first set of military free-fall jumps. Before that, I had done lots of jumps, but they were all static line. We had a professional packing a parachute; you’d click up into the airplane, you jump out, and it automatically deploys four seconds, and voila! Magically, a parachute appears.
But now we got to pack our own parachute, and I was terrified of this. And the reason I was so terrified of it is that I know I’m terrible at folding things. I constantly come up with new ways to do things. I failed almost every room inspection at the Naval Academy. I couldn’t make the quarter bounce on my bed. I couldn’t get my socks to smile the right way, or I had them upside down, frowning. Anyhow–
Denver: Not a core competency.
Alden: Yes. Terrible. My roommates hated me for it.
So now I’m packing my parachute, I’m folding it all these different times, and finally, the day comes to do my first jump. And they wake you up at 3:30 in the morning. You get on the airplane at 4:15. You’re dressed in these yellow jumpsuits, and I’ve got my parachute on that I packed, and you’re flying up, and we’re getting to 14,000 feet.
And just as we’re getting the level off, the red and the green lights, they boop, they come on. The red light comes on, the ramp lowers, and I am sitting closest to the ramp, so I’m the first one to jump. And this master Sergeant from the Air Force comes up and it’s so loud. It’s like a massive hairdryer. And we’re in Yuma, Arizona. The sun is coming up over the Yuma mountains. It’s now like 4:35 in the morning. And my heart is in my throat.
And he says, “Sir, stand up.” You just got to use hand signals, and I am standing up. And he’s like “Back up to the ramp,” I’m backing up to the ramp. And you can see all these faces down the front of the aircraft. They’re looking down like, “LTs going to jump first. Oooh.” And he goes, “Put your heels over the ramp, sir,” and I’ve done that, now, I’m leaning forward into the ramp or into the nose of the aircraft. “Look down.” I’m like…”Pretty high, isn’t it?” I’m like, “Oh, that’s funny.” And he goes, “Will you jump?” “Good!” “I have one last thing to tell you.” “What? What is it?” He stands up and he smiles, “You have the rest of your life to figure out how to open your parachute, sir. Good luck!”
Alden: And he pushes me out of the aircraft. And I’m going flying down and I’m looking at my altimeter, and he comes down and he joins me and he’s laughing. We’re falling at 120 miles an hour, and he’s like, “Did you figure it out? You have 60 seconds to pull that. If you want to pass, I can’t pull it for you. Good luck, sir!” But I end with that because at the end–
Denver: It’s a great ending to the book.
Alden: Yes. We’re all packing our own parachute, right?
Alden: We all have to take that jump if we want to improve. The jump is so terrifying because you don’t know what the outcome is, and the risk can be high if the ‘chute doesn’t open, right?
Alden: OK. So you may never do the jump. But the metaphor of this is that you could be jumping every single day when you turn on your computer going, “Well, I’m proposing a new idea today.” That’s your jump.
Denver: That’s your jump.
Alden: You’re proposing the new unknown.
And one thing that they hammer on us is how you’re going to leave that ramp of that airplane. There’s three ways: you can get pushed, shoved, dragged. And they’ll tell you, after three or four pushes, they’re like, “OK. This job’s not for you. It’s over. ” And then you have people that walk up to the ramp and they squat down, and they’re like a little kid like we all were at the end of a diving board, and we’re trying to get a little closer to impact. That matters at 13,999 feet and six inches. Or you can go the way they want you to go. Poof. Headfirst. And they want you to go headfirst because when you’re headfirst, then you’re all in.
Go all in. Be committed. People know the difference. And when they see your commitment, it’s like a magnet, and they will commit with you, especially if they know you care for them. They will jump for you.
Denver: You’re committed.
Alden: You have to be committed. So that every leader out there that’s listening to this: don’t get wrapped around the axle. Did I get the CARE loop, right? Or am I focusing on this one or that one? Go all in. Be committed. People know the difference. And when they see your commitment, it’s like a magnet, and they will commit with you, especially if they know you care for them. They will jump for you.
Denver: Great way to end. Yes. It’s sort of like diving into the pool, too. I remember when I first started to dive, if you were afraid, you end up with a belly flop if you’re not fully committed to going in headfirst, and you end up much worse than you otherwise might be.
Alden: That’s exactly right.
Denver: Well, I hope with your lack of being able to fold, you don’t have to fold the laundry at home for your family of six.
Alden: Literally, my wife, we were sitting down last night watching some of the football and she was like, “Get your hands out of here. I’ll do this.”
Denver: Absolutely. It’s a mess. The name of the book is Unstoppable Teams: The Four Essential Actions of High-Performance Teams. It was named by Forbes magazine as the best leadership book from last year. Now, that’s pretty high praise.
Tell us about your website, Alden, where you just keep on churning out new material.
Alden: It’s my full name, alden-mills.com. And I do Instagram material so video vignettes every week. We do some, or I do with my team, I write original content around team building and leadership. We have the Unstoppable Mindset course launching this month, which is my first online course which I’m very excited about.
Denver: Fantastic. Well, thanks, Alden. It was a real pleasure to have you on the show.
Alden: It was an honor. Keep doing it and keep giving. I love it, Denver.
Listen to more The Business of Giving episodes for free here. Subscribe to our podcast channel on Spotify to get notified of new episodes. You can also follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and on Facebook.