I’ve lived my whole life in the mode of “don’t break the rules.” What my nine years at Homeboy Industries have taught me is that people need to go out of their way to help people and that we need to do business differently. To do well in the marketplace while providing social value, we must break the rules. In order to truly help individuals and ourselves, we must not be so rule-bound. We need to bust up the system, swim upstream, and avoid the herd mentality. We need to take a step back and truly understand our own roles in society. Unless we shake off our current way of going about life, there will be another generation of people lost in our society – destined to stay poor, homeless, and cycling back into the prison industrial complex.
These outdated rules and notions run the gamut from the societal to the social and from personal to business. The reasons to shed these notions are enveloped in the belief that we are created equal and that our spiritual being cannot be separated from any aspect of our life at any time.
These are just 10 of the 55 rules to break that are fully explained in the book The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life.
1. Rule to Break: Meritocracy works for everybody.
The Homeboy concept of standing with everyone and, in particular, the most despised, stands in stark contrast to how the rest of the world believes and values a merit-based system—a system of measuring up, the “old-fashioned work ethic.” The disenfranchised cannot “bootstrap” themselves up—they have no bootstraps, to begin with!
2. Rule to Break: In this world, there are winners and losers.
Let’s dare to think always in terms of win-win. One person having success does not mean that success is taken from someone else. Generosity and gratitude need to be cultivated and put into action so that everyone is able to succeed. This can happen for all, not just for those who work in an organization like Homeboy. You can shift your mindset even in large bureaucratic organizations. It’s about an individual mindset that spreads into a collective mindset.
3. Rule to Break: The boss is always right and deserves your respect.
Step back when you find yourself needing to be right or requiring absolute respect. There is always something else behind “insubordination”—the stresses of life catch up to many people and happen to us all. To change one’s life is hard work, and there’s dignity in this hard work. It is in this hard work where, paradoxically, profound healing begins. So let us all not be angry and judgmental when we feel threatened by a minor workplace slight. Let us view it as a chance to be humble and to acknowledge someone else’s pain.
4. Rule to Break: Everyone already knows how to work.
Let’s not think everybody understands all workplace etiquette perfectly well. If you didn’t grow up in a loving family where many of these norms were taught, it would be hard for you to figure it out by yourself.
5. Rule to Break: Be stoic and aloof in the workplace to avoid lawsuits.
If your employees feel valued, even loved, conflicts will be easier to resolve. Practice humor, laughter, and hugs in the workplace. This does not mean the type of humor that cleverly disguises sarcasm—remarks that feel like little daggers and mock or show contempt for others—or the type of hugs that are unsettling. Lean into the laughter so you can learn not to take yourself too seriously. Special note to corporate attorneys and human resource professionals: hugs work and make a difference. They allow for a generous giving of oneself.
6. Rule to Break: The organization should come before the employees.
The employees are the organization, and we should never lose sight of the individual. Do what is best for the individual in front of you—which may not always be what is best for the organization. As you follow the core values of an organization, you may notice that they don’t necessarily line up with your personal core values at times—be aware of the difference. Treat people as individuals, not as a mass.
7. Rule to Break: Businesses should steer clear of the race issue.
In many organizations, open discussions about racial issues have been discouraged to avoid conflict. But silence does not lead to solutions. We must first contemplate our own actions and attitudes, then act to work from within the structures of our organizations to enable these discussions to occur. This is a tall order, particularly for large corporations. As with most things, large shifts in direction and policies need to come from the top leadership team in collaboration with those for whom they wish to create equity. Organizations that have developed a learning culture will be the first ones able to make the shift.
8. Rule to Break: A promotion should always be earned.
The business world usually says to someone looking for a promotion, “Before you get the promotion you need to take on those responsibilities and demonstrate that you can do the job.” People understand this dynamic and willingly put forth the effort, for they trust that they will get the promotion in a merit-based environment. We know this doesn’t always play out on the “outside,” and it certainly doesn’t work in the Homeboy world. Because of their bad experiences, some people will not take on more work or responsibility unless they receive the promotion or raise upfront. They have learned that for people like them, you can’t expect that hard work will lead to a real payoff. They are system-impacted: they’ve had a lot of experiences of being lied to, talked down to, and offered false promises and commitments by bureaucracy and management teams led by authority figures (mostly white guys), who never really followed through on anything for them to make their lives better.
9. Rule to Break: Give the exact same support to everyone.
To truly provide leadership opportunities for people with lived experiences, we need to overinvest in them and set them up in positions that play to their strengths—which may require short-term clerical or administrative support. Don’t be worried about some people getting more help than others in developing your next generation of leaders. As you’re raising the skill sets of people, be flexible and generous in providing the additional support they need on an individual level.
10. Rule to Break: You can’t trust people who have felonies to be good employees.
The Homeboy workforce in our social enterprises is just as valuable and competent as workforces in corporate America. The business managers in our social enterprises, who were once clients, are just as talented and trustworthy (if not more) as the managers who worked for me in my big corporation. Hire and invest in people who have done their time and paid their debt to society.
About the Author:
Thomas Vozzo left a lucrative career in corporate America convinced there had to be a better way to define success. In 2012, Vozzo became the first-ever CEO of Homeboy Industries, the largest and most successful gang intervention, rehabilitation, and re-entry program in the world. Vozzo’s journey goes from billion-dollar revenues—his last corporate role was as CEO of the $1.8 billion ARAMARK Uniform and Career Apparel Group—to a volunteer unpaid CEO of a nonprofit built on compassion, kinship, empathy and social justice. In Vozzo’s first book, The Homeboy Way: A Radical Approach to Business and Life, he gives readers practical ways to address some of our most vexing social issues and provides a new path for personal and business leadership.