In my career, I have had the pleasure of interviewing an incredible variety of people. From CMOs of the biggest brands in the world to world-class athletes to award-winning entertainers and a whole host of folks from many, many other areas of life.
However, I had never interviewed a former Navy Seal. So, when the opportunity arose to speak to one – one who has become incredibly successful in the business world in his post-Seal life, I jumped at the chance. His name is Alden Mills and after his career as a Seal – including serving as platoon commander on three separate occasions, he dove headfirst into the world of business.
In 2004, he founded Perfect Fitness. In just a few short years, he would go on to lead the company to enormous growth which resulted in Inc. magazine recognizing it as the number one fastest-growing consumer products company in America.
I spoke with Alden recently about what marketers can learn from someone like him, what takes to be a great leader.
SO: What are the 3 things you took from being a Seal and have applied to your life as a businessman and entrepreneur?
AM: How about three words: Never Give Up! I would love to stop there but I know you’re looking for more so here are three things that help people never give up (as far as I’m concerned that’s where success comes from unstoppable persistence!)
- Your focus funnels your energy to take an action – your focus will determine your attitude, actions, outcomes and also sets the tone for your team’s focus. After all your team’s focus is a reflection of your focus.
- It’s all about the team – period. We are imperfect beings – we need each other and our ability to build relationships directly impacts our ability to build teams. Teams are a force multiplier – they enable us to do things way beyond our individual abilities. Yet teams are fragile and hard to come by because leaders can quickly lose focus when success is achieved – they allow their egos to get in the way by taking credit or greed (more than their share) or fame (thinking teams work for them).
- There’s always a way: Improvise, Adapt and Overcome. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that “we” couldn’t X or launch Y or build Z, I’d be wealthier than I am today (which isn’t saying much – but you get my point!). True innovation comes from necessity and the team. I make this mistake early in my CEO days of thinking innovation was reserved for a small handful – the fact is good ideas are everywhere and sometimes the best ones come from the least expected people. The key is learning to listen to understand while being inclusive.
- Okay, one more thing while we’re at it – Business is an athletic event. Don’t believe me? Next time you give a presentation wear a heart rate monitor. Train for business – take care of your body – stay fit, pay attention to what you eat and encourage your teammates to do the same!
SO: In your most recent book, you write “Unstoppable teams aren’t reserved for elite forces in the military. In sports, in business, in communities, in every facet of life, developing the qualities of an unstoppable team is essential if you want to thrive in chaos and break away from the pack.” “Chaos” and “breaking away from the pack” are synonymous when it comes to brands and marketers. So how can marketers/leaders specifically achieve unstoppable team status?
AM: Number one – the rules for building unstoppable teams are agnostic to industry, business type, profit focus or community. If there are humans involved then the rules for building unstoppable teams apply – period.
Number two – know your lines of leadership. There are three and they go in this order:
- Directs (reports)
- Indirects (Contributors, Customers, Community)
Most leaders think only about leading “their” direct reports and disregard the first and third lines. In marketing terms, think of it like this: Your brand is a reflection of your culture Click To Tweet – your culture is a reflection of your team(s) and your teams are a reflection of YOU. It starts with you Mr. and Ms. Marketer/Leader – your actions, your focus will be what gets mirrored by your teammates.
And number three – never forget the single most important action in leading: caring. Teddy Roosevelt said it best: “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Same rules of caring apply for building a brand or an unstoppable team – you must prove how much you care about your teammates first then your customers and your communities in which you serve.
SO: What are some attributes and qualities that make for a great leader?
AM: Great leaders do three things:
- They get people to believe in themselves.
- They teach their people things that help them succeed.
- They push their people to beyond their preconceived limits.
Attributes that help leaders do those three things are:
- Empathy, an ability to connect emotionally.
- Humility, an ability to listen to understand and accept other ideas and admit when they are wrong.
- An ability to communicate vision, candor, perspective and feedback.
- A willingness to take action, consistency and authenticity.
- Charisma, great orators are born to lead – the best leaders come from struggle – and struggle builds strength.