Transformational Relationships Through Radical Candor with Aaron Dimmock
Today’s episode features Aaron Dimmock, CEO and Founder of the Collective Performance Initiative.
“Draw on Proverbs 27:6, where he says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend,” even if that friend is you to yourself. Because we have to be honest and true to ourselves before we can possibly be true to others.”
Full Transcript of Podcast Below
Ray: Well, hello, everyone, this is Ray Hilbert, your host here at Bottom Line Faith. Well, folks, if you are new to the program here at Bottom Line Faith, this is the place where we talk with top Christian business and marketplace leaders across the country, and really the word picture, the analogy we like to use here is imagine that we are lifting the hood and we are going to tinker around in the engine of Christian leadership. We are just so thankful that you would join us. If this is the first time that you’ve listened to the program, welcome.
If you’re a regular listener here at Bottom Line Faith, thank you for your support. And in both cases, you can check out all of the episodes of our 30-minute program at bottomlinefaith.org. You can check us out on Facebook, Twitter, all your social media platforms. Well, I am really, really excited about our guest today, and this is a friend that I’ve gotten to know over the last couple months. Every once in a while, you meet somebody in your life, and you go wow, it’d be cool to be that person, and this is how I feel about our guest today. Our guest today is Aaron Dimmock, and he is the founder of Collective Performance Initiative, LLC. We’re going to get into the title and what that company is all about, but Aaron, welcome to Bottom Line Faith.
Aaron: Thank you so much. I’m humbled to be here.
Ray: We’re gonna have some fun today. And in case, I don’t think I’ve said this to you, but if you all go to the website, and by now you know that this interview once it’s posted on the website, you’re going to see the picture. It’s kind of like I’m interviewing Clark Kent today. It’s got – I’m really jealous – he’s got perfect hair; he’s about 6’4”; he’s got a great smile. And plus, he’s an all-American hero. And he’s turning red already. Let’s have some fun today. Aaron, tell us just a little bit about Collective Performance Initiative. What is that? Why did you form it? What do you do there?
Aaron: Absolutely. Thank you, Ray. The impetus for entertaining the idea of going into the area and space of organizational development. My last position was at the Pentagon, and I served as the Navy representative to the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for military professionalism.
Ray: Now, would you say that one more time, that’s awesome. Tell me tell me that one again.
Aaron: I was the Navy representative to the senior advisor to the Secretary of Defense for military professionalism. We called it SAMP, for short, because that’s a ridiculously long title. And the longer usually means the less important you are to the outfit, but that’s okay. That was not the case with this. So over my time there, had a wonderful opportunity to learn and do a deep dive into leadership and character development. With that, I figured I would take that as the lily pad to launch into post-Navy life, get my wife Kim and our kiddos off to an old, new location. So my wife grew up in Fishers, and I grew up down in Perry Township and wanted to see if there was a way that I could continue answering my call to serve beyond post-Navy life by helping others. So that was the impetus behind founding the Collective Performance Initiative.
Ray: Fantastic. And we’re going to dive deeper into some of the things that you help organizations do, what you’ve studied and so forth. But you mentioned naval service. So you graduated from the Naval Academy.
Aaron: That was ’96.
Ray: That’s right. It was the Naval War College in 2007.
Aaron: That’s correct.
Ray: Tell us the difference between the Naval Academy and the Naval War College.
Aaron: The Naval Academy is for high school graduates, and it’s an undergraduate degree program. That’s the biggest difference between that and the War College, aside from grooming folks for a career in naval service upon graduation from the Naval Academy. The Naval War College was brought about by Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan to look into naval strategy and the compliment that the naval forces could be to patrolling the commons, which are all the waterways around the globe, to make them safe and secure for trade, as well as safety and security for the nations. So that’s more of a professional program for officers in the naval service and other services – foreign services as well. And that’s the biggest contrast between the Naval War College itself and the Naval Academy.
Ray: Okay. Very, very fascinating. And tell us just briefly, what was your role? You’re a pilot – P3s?
Aaron: That’s correct.
Ray: Tell us about that. Maybe an interesting story or so.
Aaron: Sure. So I’ll very quickly cover two anecdotes. But P3s, the primary mission of the P3 is anti-submarine warfare: open-ocean surveillance to attempt to find enemy submarines and protect the striker aircraft carriers and other naval vessels for both ourselves and our partner nations around the globe. My first operational flight was with weapons on the wings in April of 1999, when Bosnia and Kosovo were having some issues with Slobodan Milosevic.
That had nothing to do with open-ocean surveillance, but everything to do with providing support for our ground forces and attempting to address the concerns and issues over there at that time. And then fast-forward a couple of years, on 9/11. That evening, the crew I was on had the opportunity to fly over Ground Zero to provide surveillance for that area and help the efforts there, as well as patrolling up and down the northeast coast. Because at that point, obviously, no one knew exactly what was going to happen next.
Ray: That sounds to me like it had to be just a surreal experience as you’re flying over, getting that surveillance, and seeing what’s just happened in our country. What was that like?
Aaron: It was very surreal. That is the absolutely appropriate word to use. I had up until that point, operationally, of course, been overseas to help in other capacities. But this one was on our own soil. So that was the starkest contrast. And then for us in the aviation world, especially over the United States, tons of air traffic.
So radio calls among fellow pilots with air traffic control center, always something going on on the radio that night there was nothing. It was just coordination among the different armed services and National Guard units that were taking part across the country to provide for safety and security of the nation. But it was very quiet and very calm, and surreal, again, is the most appropriate word for it.
Ray: Sometimes it’s easy to forget rather that all air traffic was shut off.
Aaron: That’s correct.
Ray: I mean, the skies were empty, right? Except for guys like you protecting us.
Aaron: That’s correct. Except for the military support for those next few days, everything got shut down.
Ray: Well, thank you for your service to our country, and you know, did you always want to be a pilot? Did you always know that that’s what you wanted to do?
Aaron: I think in my heart of hearts, from a tactical standpoint, when I arrived at the Academy, I thought that that was something that I would like to do. But more a call to serve on the altruistic side, then specifically in what capacity I would serve. So I took advantage of my time at the Naval Academy to do everything but naval aviation and get exposed to that during the training summers. So I did some training with the new folks coming in a couple of summers into the Academy, spent some time with the Marine Corps, did a cruise on a submarine. So I pretty much did everything but naval aviation and then ended up going naval aviation.
Ray: Okay, very, very good. And when I said in the opening comments, you know, a guy that I’d like to be, I don’t think there’s a guy listening to our program right now that wouldn’t think it’d be cool to be a Navy pilot. Is it all that it’s cracked up to be?
Aaron: It really is.
Ray: I knew it. Alright, well, folks, we’re speaking with Aaron Dimmock. He is the founder of Collective Performance Initiative, and in just a moment, we’re going to get into the heart of really what Aaron is passionate about from a professional standpoint. But Aaron, just a moment, tell us what you’re really passionate about on the personal side. Tell us just a little bit about your family.
Aaron: Yes, so blessed to be married to my soulmate who said yes at the circle downtown, actually, by the monument, downtown Indianapolis, many, many years ago. And my wife Kim and I were coming up on 21 years of marriage on Flag Day, June 14, and just blessed by that union. We were set up on a blind date, and the rest was history. And now we are blessed with the presence of four kiddos in our lives: Camden, Kinsey, Amelia, and Peyton.
Ray: And their ages are?
Aaron: 18, 17, 12, and 9.
Ray: Oh boy.
Aaron: Yeah, so full house. Plenty going on.
Ray: There you go. There you go. Alright. That’s awesome. That’s great to just get a little bit of your background, a little bit of even your career in service. And so you’re really passionate in this area of leadership, and that’s really the focus of our program here at Bottom Line Faith. As I said, we want to really tinker around and learn more about leadership here. And so how would you define leadership?
Aaron: That’s a wonderful question. Many definitions obviously have and can be used. But I think for me, a definition of leadership that’s functional in my life is the willingness and ability to serve others.
Ray: So it really is about servant leadership.
Ray: Okay, let’s talk a little bit about you know, in your own career, some of the lessons you’ve learned about leadership and some of the mistakes you’ve made. So as you kind of look back over the course of your own career to this point, what would you say is the biggest mistake you’ve made and what’d you learn from it?
Aaron: Another wonderful question. The biggest mistake I made probably was not being true enough to myself to be humble enough at times to admit when I’ve been wrong, and realizing that while there are definite failures there, embracing those as learning opportunities is the way to move forward. So there are there are certain things in my past decisions that I’ve made, perhaps behaviors and acts that I’ve carried out, that I’m certainly not proud of, but I failed at the time in the moment went to reflect on them and actually acknowledge and embrace them to be able to learn from them. So they’re, they’re certainly lost opportunities in my past that now, fast-forward, I take that time; I take those pauses, and if I can, I think of it ahead of time. So I prevent myself from, from making those, those poor decisions and taking poor actions in preventing that.
Ray: So on this topic, you know, lesson learned, mistakes made, that sort of thing, just around admitting when we’re wrong. You know, many of our listeners here at Bottom Line Faith, they’re business owners, they’re CEOs, they’re running companies, they’re running organizations. And yeah, if we make mistakes in those capacities, they cost our company money, it might cost a few jobs potentially. And those are, those are obviously important things. But in your world, you make a wrong decision; lives are at stake; the consequences are incredible. So in the culture that you are a part of, in the naval service, what was it like? Were you, you know, encouraged to admit when you’re wrong, or was it, “Boy, you gotta CYA; cover yourself.” What was it like for you?
Aaron: It’s a wonderful, wonderful ask of a question. Sometimes the structure actually serves as an impediment to being able to come clean, if you will. So there are direct and indirect incentives, unfortunately, to not admit your mistakes. Because there is a portion there that folks think that the risk involved is too great to admit that, but I will tell you most of the time – and I love the P3 community from the standpoint that I got to fly with 11 to 18, 19 additional crew members, so there was naturally a team air to everything that we did, and we would pay and see it up front and personal, up close and personal, may not have been in cost of lives or resources, necessarily. There’s an air or aura about a team that when you let the team down, or somebody else lets the team down, it’s dysfunctional.
Aaron: And so we realize that if we can stay ahead of that, get ahead of it, and stay ahead of it, and be open with each other, honest with each other, just say it so that we can all address it together as a team, and then move forward in a positive way, rather than trying to make up ground because of the dysfunction.
Ray: I understand, and we’re going to talk about this environment and culture of transparency and being open and honest in just a moment. What would you say would be ways that you tried to live out your faith or your spiritual foundation in your work in the naval service? What did that look like for you?
Aaron: So one manner that kind of manifested itself a couple of times was being able to be in a position when we would go deploy or detachment sites that were far away, and there weren’t options for being able to attend service, doing Bible studies and getting together and talking about our faith, because you can do that anywhere.
Ray: And was that fairly common? Or was it hard to find those like-minded individuals?
Aaron: Every organization, unit, command that I was with, there was always a group that, just, whoever you may be inclined to affiliate or associate with, those opportunities were always available. So yeah, there were moments and opportunities actually, to cohese perhaps a little deeper and differently than we would have had that opportunity not existed. And then certainly different places that we would go where there were the facilities, there were the churches, there were the areas to conglomerate, and have that sense of communion and belongingness that naturally lend themselves to those type of experiences.
So that’s one, and then the other is just modeling the way. How is it that you live your life? How is it that other folks are living their lives, when everyone’s away from their family and friends? And hopefully there’s consistency, there’s authenticity, to where folks are the same away as they are at home. And as you said, like-minded folks, like-behaving folks that you associate with and you reinforce each other’s behavior, which can be very positive.
Ray: Yeah, so was it ever a struggle for you to apply your faith? Meaning you’re on a mission, for example, and you’ve been given just countless hours of training, right? The Bible says it’s very dangerous for us to just lean on our own strength and our own skills, and you know, that we are to trust God, did you ever have that struggle? Like, “Okay, I’ve had all this training, so I’m just going to rely on my own strength and my own skills. But God, I know I can’t do this without you.” Did you have those conversations in your head?
Aaron: You know, fortunately, I would say, I really didn’t. Perhaps it was because I had such a powerful experience with upbringing and childhood, that that never really was a factor. But I could see that in others. I could see that challenge in others, where there is that tension, and then the challenge for you as an individual is alright, how can I help this person out and resolve that? And maybe not fully resolve that issue for them, but at least give them some breadcrumbs, you know, something to be able to give them hope, and reconcile that.
Because yes, we are to provide for the national security and support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. We are acting agents in a very kinetic, convective environment, and you’re going to be faced with things that don’t set well with you. So if there’s anything to be gained in those moments, it’s folks that kind of surface themselves in their beliefs and share that with others, so that they can not just persevere and make their way through it, but thrive in that type of environment where you know, that your purpose is coming out through those actions in service of others, because there are certain things in our world, unfortunately, that have to be addressed in certain ways.
Ray: Very fascinating. Aaron, I’d really like to transition our conversation now to a topic that you and I have talked a lot about offline leading up to this interview, and I know something you’re very passionate about, and that’s this whole topic and issue of candor. Tell us, what does that mean? And then we’re going to talk about its application in leadership.
Aaron: For me, I actually boil candor down to three specific elements: there’s an element of character, there’s an element of competence, and then there’s an element of courage. On the character side, it’s truth – being true to yourself, being true to others in thought, word, and action. On the competence side, you have to have a degree of knowledge and understanding in order to impart whatever it is that you’re trying to be candid about.
And then the courage component, I think, for most of us, is most critical and most challenging because as Mary Gentile says in Giving Voice to Values, most of the time, we actually know what the right action is. The challenge comes in actually acting on that, giving voice to that. It takes courage; it takes fortitude. So those three components for me operationalize that concept of candor to be able to come forth being consistent in thought, word, and deed.
Ray: Yeah, so as I said earlier, you know, we’ve got business owners, presidents, key leaders that are a big part of our audience. And, and I would imagine right now that at least one of our listeners is struggling with something that maybe there’s a situation with an employee in their organization, someone that they that reports to them, maybe there’s a situation at home that there’s some dysfunctionality going on, or maybe there’s just some unresolved conflict, and it oftentimes gets down to the lack of candor, does it not?
Aaron: It does.
Ray: What’s the consequence if we’re not willing to be candid in these relationships? What happens?
Aaron: Yeah, I think most of the time, we lose out on an opportunity to care for each other and challenge each other directly, bring to light that real issue that’s under the surface so that both you and I can become better for it.
Ray: But what happens if I hurt your feelings?
Aaron: You know, for folks that take offense to certain things, there’s a portion of you that can say that “Hey, let’s get over this.” But the other is being sensitive to the fact that folks may respond in that way, but the altruistic side is I care enough for you to be able to bring light to this issue. So it’s not an affront to you personally; it’s not an attack on you as an individual. Let’s talk about, have some serious, meaningful conversations about the issue of concern so that we can both figure out the way to work through it.
Ray: And is it your experience that, do most people have this ability to do this or willingness to do it or do most people back away from it?
Aaron: Most people back away from it. It’s our natural human inclination, biologically, to fend for ourselves, fight for ourselves. And I’ll spare the listening audience the way-back-when details of early humans, but there is a biologist and naturalist by the name of Edward O. Wilson, that I think captures it very well. Because he looks at both the individual level and the group level. At the individual level, competition and me looking out for my self-interests, I best you as an individual, but a group of individuals that think that way consume themselves and do not survive.
The group of individuals, when you have the altruistic motive to provide for the group, serve the group, even out of self-interest, there’s a portion of that there. But contributing to the group is where human progress is found, so that tension between the individual and the group, it’s in our DNA. So it’s not our natural inclination to reach out to the other, but that’s where the special ingredient is “love one another as you would love yourself.” Those are the elements – the how – to work with people in our humaneness, our humanity, is actually the key to resolving these type issues.
Ray: That’s very fascinating. I mean, I’m thinking like, even in the context of a marriage, you know, if I’m feeling unhappy in my marriage, or unfulfilled in my relationship with my wife, it seems like as I’m listening to you, part of that’s, I’ve got to own that, because perhaps I’ve not communicated with candor, “Hey, honey, here’s what I need out of this relationship. Or here’s what I’m not feeling like I’m getting.” And I’m not setting those proper expectations. What role does that play in candor, just setting proper expectations?
Aaron: Absolutely. Yeah, that’s a perfect example of where this hits all of us at the individual level in our day to day lives. And I would draw everyone to an idea concept by John Stuart Mill, actually, where he mentioned that we’re all corrigible beings; we’re malleable; we can change. We have the capacity, cognitive capacity to think about and realize changes in behavior. If that’s the going-in moral obligation argument, then think further about how am I caring for both you and me?
So candor is actually an expression of caring. And Kim Scott talks about this, most recently, in the release of her book, Radical Candor, where she actually defines her concept by the extent to which you care personally, and are willing to challenge each other directly. So if there’s that relationship, that trust that you’ve built, there really shouldn’t be any opportunity for an individual to take offense because they see what you doing what you are doing. It’s a moral obligation to help them out. So you’re challenging them and the issue – not on them as a person because you’re caring for them incredibly from a relationship standpoint, but you dig into it deeply by challenging the issue, bringing it to light.
Ray: Okay, so I’ve got a chicken-egg question for you, okay? Which comes first? The candor or the trust? Does it take candor to build trust because I know this person is being straightforward with me? Or does it take trust so that I can then address candor? Which comes first?
Aaron: Another wonderful question. My personal conception is that candor comes first, from the standpoint that there are antecedents or predecessors to trust. I can show you that I care personally for you by showing you a smile, putting up my hand to shake your hand and not know you from anybody. But I still care for you, foundationally, as a fellow human being.
Ray: Got it.
Aaron: From there, I can then bring up certain issues that I may know about you, and you may know about me, and unearth them so that we start the dialogue. And from there, we begin to establish a foundation for trust, through trustworthiness, then we build on our relationships and start forming as a team and get meaning from that belongingness, and then start to perform as a team and a unit, whether that’s husband-wife combination, a family unit, at work, it’s transferable to any of those environments.
Ray: So getting back to what you said earlier about, you know, when you’re in the service, admitting when you’re wrong, did you see this play out in negative ways or positive ways in your years in the Navy?
Aaron: Absolutely both. The negative side is when it doesn’t come to light, and things fester. And ultimately, for some folks, relationships are irreparable. The other is if you can get past that ledge. If you use the analogy of rappelling off a ledge, the hardest part is taking that first step to back and then be at the whim of your carabiner and your line to keep you safe; take that first step. And then from there, it can be exhilarating. So you have to work through some of that anxiety, skepticism, and pain, in some instances, to be able to shed light on it, air it, and then start to have productive dialogue. And on the most positive side, it’s exhilarating. You know the truth, you both agree on it, and you’re able to work towards solving those type issues.
Ray: So I have to admit, you sound extraordinarily equipped to talk about this topic.
Aaron: Well, thank you.
Ray: Absolutely, and is this what you’re studying now in your doctoral, tell us about that? And then I just got – whoa, oh my gosh, we’re almost out of time. But tell us a little bit about that, and then I got one big question.
Aaron: Absolutely. For sure. Yeah, so I’m through my coursework, and I’m working on my dissertation, which is titled “The Dance of Human Affairs: How Candor Shapes Organizational Performance.” So these daily interactions we have at an individual level with the people we come in most frequent contact with, if you can nudge forward to help those conversations out just a little bit, by focusing on your and their character, your and their competence, and your and their courage, you start to unfold a space that’s safe to have these debates and grow together. So that’s really what I’m focusing on: help me help you, but more importantly, it’s actually the ability and willingness to help others while becoming a better human being yourself.
Ray: That is just really, really terrific insight there, and I talked to you before we started on the interview, Aaron, that I have one question that I love to ask every guest here at Bottom Line Faith, and this our last question. Maybe we can have you back for episode number two because I think we’re just scratching the surface here together.
Aaron: That would be wonderful.
Ray: But in Proverbs 4:23, Solomon writes that “Above all else, guard your heart, for it determines the course of your life.” And Aaron, there are, and for our regular listeners, you know, I always take a moment to explain this a little bit, that there are some biblical scholars who believe that those may have been amongst Solomon’s last words.
You know, he wrote much of Song of Solomon, Ecclesiastes Proverbs, this wisest man ever to live, and he’s given us all these truths and all these principles. And so if we could imagine if these were among his last words, it’s kind of like he might have gathered his family, his friends, and his loved ones. He says, “Look, I’ve given you all this wisdom. I’ve given you everything I’ve learned in life. But now here’s the one thing: above all else, guard your heart, for from it flows everything in your life.” So Aaron, if we could fast-forward the clock, and it’s near, you’re in the end of your time here on earth, and you get a chance to gather your family, your friends and your loved ones, and you get to say, “Now, everybody, above all else…” what would you advise? Above all else…
Aaron: I would draw on Proverbs again: 27:6, where he says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend.” Even if that friend is you to yourself, because we have to be honest and true to ourselves before we can possibly be true to other people.
Ray: I think that’s summed up extraordinarily well. So for those of you who’ve been listening to the program, I’m sure there’s one or more of you out there that you’re wrestling right now with a relationship, a key employee, something in your family, that, you know, there’s something that needs to be said to bring candor to the table. And maybe you feel like you don’t have the character, the competence, or the courage, but Aaron has walked us through that. I just want to encourage you. I just want to encourage you and strengthen you: have the courage to offer up the candor. Would you agree with that, Aaron?
Aaron: Wholeheartedly, absolutely, Ray.
Ray: Would you come back and visit us again?
Aaron: It would be my pleasure to do so.
Ray: Thank you. Folks, it has been an honor having my friend, and now your friend, Aaron Dimmock on our program today, and this was a great time that we had here at Bottom Line Faith. Folks, check us out on the web at bottomlinefaith.org. Check us out on Twitter and Facebook, and if you are a business owner, a Christ-follower, and you’re looking for community, a way to build your business on proven biblical principles and practice, check out the other website at truthatwork.org. Truth At Work is the sponsoring ministry here at Bottom Line Faith. We would love to have a conversation with you and help you build your company on proven biblical principles. Well, folks, until next time, this is your host Ray Hilbert, saying thanks for listening in at Bottom Line Faith. God bless, and we’ll see you soon.