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How to create community: Lessons from Homeboy Industries

Learn what the work of Homeboy Industries and the Rev. Greg Boyle can teach us about community and teamwork.

4 min read


Photo of Homeboy Industries founder Rev. Greg Boyle with a trainee

The Rev. Greg Boyle with a trainee (Homeboy Industries)

What do employees value most about their companies? According to a recent McKinsey & Co. study, the top three reasons are:

  • Valued by the organization
  • Valued by their manager
  • A sense of belonging

And not far behind is the need for “having caring and trusting teammates.”

When one or more of these four elements are missing, employees are tempted to look elsewhere. As Tiffani Bova, a global technology evangelist with Salesforce, writes in Fast Company, “The writing is on the wall: Investing in your people starts and ends with listening to what they value most about working for your organization.”

Bova, the author of the bestseller “Growth IQ,” adds, “creating a culture in which technology can be viewed as an impactful teammate means more human interaction and engagement from your entire organization.”

Having the right tools in the right hands is essential, but as the McKinsey survey cited by Bova notes, it comes down to people connecting to people — that is, “relational skills.” Invest in them.

Investment takes the shape of technology that enables people to understand their jobs better and remain in close contact with colleagues, especially when working remotely. There is another element, however, that offers real differentiation.

More than a place to work

Regard your workplace as a community. Communities, by nature, are places where people feel they belong. A community is more than a place to work; it becomes a place to be.

The Rev. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest, has taken the sense of community to new heights with the organization he founded in East Los Angeles decades ago. It’s called Homeboy Industries, and its initial purpose was to employ ex-gang members.

What binds the community together, as Boyle writes in his newest book, “The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness”?

“Homeboy is a place of grace and chaos — where joy is always waiting in the wings.”

Homeboy Industries, now the largest gang-intervention program globally, is where men and women who have led lives of crime — most often because they were victims of abuse and abandonment — can feel a sense of belonging. As Boyle writes:

“It is only belonging, and not mere inclusion, that fully arouses bravery in others. You start with a broken heart and remove what encases it.”

Doing such takes great courage and what “homies” call “tenderoni” – love, compassion and tenderness.

What Homeboy teaches

The lessons of Homeboy Industries show the power of caring. And as such, it can teach powerful lessons to other organizations that have far more advantages:

  • Lay down your baggage. Each of us is an accumulation of successes as well as failures. We have our quirks and our moods. When you belong to a community, you are not your resume. You become a fellow contributor.
  • Find ways to work with people unlike yourselves. At Homeboy Industries, it is not uncommon for people who once belonged to rival gangs to work together. It is never easy, but within the Homeboy culture, learning to get along is vital to becoming a whole person.
  • Build trust by showing trust. Of course, we want others to trust us, but how often do we wait for the “other person” to make the first move. Better to show others who you are first. Be open with them. Give them the benefit of the doubt.

Respect is fundamental to each step and essential if you want to create community. We reinforce respect through our actions — assisting, listening and caring.

Doing these things help colleagues feel wanted, recognized and respected. Just as we may receive in return.

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator, executive coach and the author of many books, including GRACE; A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us, MOXIE, Lead With Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide. In 2018 Trust Across America awarded John its Lifetime Achievement award for Trust. In 2019 Global Gurus ranked John No. 9 on its list of global leadership experts. His leadership resource website is

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