Lots of us think that real leadership means being really smart and capable—rushing in as hero, and fixing things with our ingenuity. But former Fortune 500 executive turned master social entrepreneur collaborator and amplifier Tony Loyd has another way of thinking about leadership and success.
In this episode of In Times like These, Tony Loyd teaches us how to think about social entrepreneurship. It’s opportunity for curiosity, humility, empathy—and learning from the community. The community already has the answers—so how do we unlock that capacity?
Stephanie: You’re listening to In Times Like These, a production of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. In Times Like These, explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt.
Stephanie: How would you be different as a leader if you looked for opportunities to sit with others, to hear their perspectives, and to use their shared wisdom to change the world? Lots of us think that real leadership means being really smart and capable. Rushing in as hero and fixing things with our ingenuity, but former Fortune 500 executive, turned master collaborator and amplifier, Tony Loyd, has another way of thinking about leadership and success. In this episode of In Times Like These, Tony teaches us how to think about social entrepreneurship. It’s an opportunity for curiosity, humility, empathy, and learning from the community. The community already has the answers, so how do we unlock that capacity?
Stephanie: Tony, thank you so much for this conversation. I have been getting my social entrepreneurship on, and I’m so excited to learn more from you today. And the first question I have for you, when I look at all of the voices, and organizations, you’ve been featuring, I feel like in the last five to ten years, social entrepreneurship is really having a moment, and I’m wondering why. Why now culturally? Or is there something about leadership? Is there something about business? Why are we seeing all of these fantastic voices emerging right now?
Tony: Oh, man. Well, just like anything there’s no one single cause, but one of the things I noticed recently was Nielsen did a survey and they surveyed more than 28,000 people and they asked them a lot of questions. And one of them … One of the indications that came out of that was 68% of the people who said, “I’m going to purchase something.” They said, “I will pay a little bit extra for a product or service that has a social impact.” And then they asked them the clever follow-up question, “Have you actually made a purchase?” And the answer was yes, within the last month I’ve made a purchase for a product or service that has a social impact.
Tony: And in fact, among Gen Z, 72% said I will pay a little extra for a product or service that has a social impact. The other two things that a business is trying to do, so we’re trying to maximize our profitability and we’re trying to be successful as a business, but we’re also trying to attract talent. So 67% of people surveyed said, “I want my work to mean something higher, to be tied to a social purpose.” And then 60% of people who said I’m trying to make an investment, say, “I’m not just trying to get a return, I’m also trying to make an impact.” So businesses are going, holy cats, wait a minute we only want to do three things. Make more profit, attract talent, and get capital. This makes a lot of sense for us.
Tony: I also find that sources of income for non-profit organizations are going way. So those who make those kinds of investments, whether it’s civic or it’s private family foundations, one, they’re doing less of it and two, they are demanding more. They’re saying we don’t just want to make an investment and come back next month and ask us again. They want to see an impact. So non-profits and NGOs are moving in the direction of trying to find sustainable revenue.
Tony: So you’re seeing these two trends sort of merging, they’re coming together. Businesses are trying to do more philanthropic social good in the world and non-profits, NGOs, are trying to find sustainable income. So right at the intersection of those two circles, people on the podcast can’t see my hands, but I’m making circles here, right where they intersect that’s the sweet spot. That’s the place where social good can happen and it can be sustainable.
Stephanie: So me as a worker, I’m looking for more meaningful work. Me as a consumer, I’m looking to make an impact. And the places where I normally would have given, charity like church or through philanthropic-
Tony: Hold on. I don’t know if … Hold on. I don’t know if you got dropped out on your end, but I had a big drop out right there.
Stephanie: Oh. Okay.
Tony: Yeah. So let’s try that question. You were responding to that. Go ahead.
Stephanie: Okay. So me as a worker, I’m looking for meaningful work. Me as a consumer, I’m looking for my purchases to do more, not just for me, but for the world. And formerly charitable giving, like to churches, places like that, have less, but there’s a greater need. So all of this creating this space where these things can blossom. I have a hard question and I grapple with this a lot. When I look at organizations like Wounded Warrior Project, my heart goes out. I have a lot of colleagues and friends who support that organization. I see the commercials and I think, wow, I really need to give to this and buy this blanket. But a part of me thinks, but I’m a tax player. I want my taxes to go to supporting veterans. We made a promise to them.
Stephanie: And I had the similar question, I just listened to Emily Hunt Turner, amazing, All Square, incredible. She worked for HUD. She had some critics of HUD, especially around tenant’s election policies, criminal record policies. And part of me is like yeah, go Emily Hunt Turner, build a foundation, build a non-profit, address this. But then part of me is like, no, I want HUD to address this. So what I do with this tension between expecting my government and public schools and public endeavors to address needs like homelessness. Why should I be looking to spend money on coffee and shoes to help these things?
Tony: My, it’s a great question. I think because government isn’t. As individual citizens we can be activists and we can vote, but the most … So we get to vote once every four years, or two years I guess, but you can vote every day-
Stephanie: So, why? Why can’t I expect public schools and the government and HUD to deal with these issues?
Tony: Yeah. I think because they don’t. So there’s a lot of political pressure that says, how can we do more with less within government. And there seems to be a swing in that direction. That people don’t trust government, so they want less of it in their lives. And you only get to vote once every two years, or four years for your government officials, but every day every dollar that you spend, you’re voting for the kind of world that you want. So if you go spend your money at a big coffee chain and they are doing things that maybe don’t contribute, or you can go to a small local coffee shop that has fair trade coffee and they employ homeless people. You get to choose where those dollars go and every time you spend money you vote for the kind of world you want.
Stephanie: Wow. That’s compelling. That makes me feel better about my choices. It’s not a binary choice, either pay taxes and vote or be a conscious consumer. Okay. Thank you for that.
Stephanie: I was looking at your background and one of your previous job titles was human performance improvement consultant. What does that mean human performance? Are we talking about how I’m doing? Am I working in a meaningful way? Am I getting to use all my creativity and skills? What does that mean?
Tony: Yeah. I think at that time where I was really focusing on was I had come through a technical background, then I went into a learning and development background, and at some point people were coming to me as a training leader and saying, “My people won’t do X, so give them a training program.” Well, a training program isn’t always the solution. It’s like, hey, my people have a head cold, give them an aspirin. Well, maybe an aspirin is going to help, maybe an aspirin isn’t going to help. Let’s just talk about what the problem is.
Tony: So my consulting practice really went from we can provide you with the training program to, what’s really happening here in this dynamic? How do we shift the culture within your organization to get the kind of performance you want? The question is, why won’t my people do what I want them to do? Well there’s so many environmental reasons that might be happening. There’s so many hiring practices, instructions, things standing in the way. Everybody wants to perform to their peak performance. No one wants to be a lazy slob sitting in their cubicle, sitting on their hands and being sad all day, though I have done that.So nobody really wants to do that.
Tony: So really I sort of elevated my consulting practice at that time and just said, I not only want to say yes, we can do training for you, but let’s really get at the root of why that’s happening. And that was the kind of work I was doing when I consulted with John Deere and then John Deere recruited me in, and then my corporate career took off and I had a nice healthy corporate career after that.
Stephanie: So you’re talking about ecosystems. You’re looking at all the things in play. You’re talking about all the things in play, thinking about how do organizations succeed, right?
Stephanie: What happened next where you’re in this new kind of space where the patterns vary depending on leader, depending on idea, depending on context, the patterns are very different.
Tony: Yeah. When you say you’re in a new environment, are you talking about what I do today-
Tony: … or are you talking about … Yes.
Stephanie: I’m talking about today.
Tony: Yeah, absolutely. Here’s how I think about my business and as a podcaster I think you and I are in just similar roles here. And I’m a couple of years into this thing and it’s taken me a while to say, who is really, really my perfect guest and what is the story we’re trying to tell? So what we do is we sort of draw four circles and the intersection of those four circles is really our sweet spot here. We work on big problems, and you had mentioned of me, I think, before we started recording that we categorize almost every interview by one of these 17 sustainable development goals. So somehow these people are tied to one of these sustainable development goals. Now they’re not fixing everything, they’re not solving world hunger, but they’re pushing in that direction.
Tony: So the first thing is big goals. The second thing is they’re solutions orientated. So anyone can come on and complain about climate change, or inequities in our society, etc., but these are the people who are working on solutions. And then the third circle is really either A, a for profit business model or sustainable business model, even if that’s a non-profit organization. We don’t discriminate either way, whether it’s for profit, non-profit, hybrid organization. But they have a sustainable business model that will allow them to do their social good over time.
Tony: And then the fourth category is underrepresented voices. So we interviewed … Last year 67% of our guest were women entrepreneurs, and that’s not a voice you hear every day, 30% were people of color. We also will end up with a mix of different religious backgrounds, different sexual orientation, different whatever, and as we have these conversations and as we go on, we look at our content calendar and we say, “Okay, April 30th is about World Press Freedom Day, so who do we know who focuses on that, is tied to sustainable development goal number 16, they have a business solution, and they’re pushing in that direction?” So we end up with Tina Rosenberg of the Solutions Journalism Network, and she’s talking about that.
Tony: That’s what we do. We try to put our content calendar together so we’re not always talking about the same thing. We focus on people who are working on big problems. They are solution oriented. They have a business, or a sustainable business model. And then, often we try to represent those under represented voices.
Stephanie: Yes. I’m taking so many notes right now. I can’t wait to share this. I feel like I’m taking a master class. And yes, I noticed that right away on your website. I noticed that right away. And as an academic, I have been to so many conferences where the panel is monolithic. They’re people who don’t look like me. They’re people who are … And you hear a conference organizer constantly, “Well, we just couldn’t get any women. We couldn’t get any people of color. We couldn’t get any young people.” And I just think, really? So to open your website and see faces that represent the faces on my subway train, and in my neighborhood, and in my classroom, I’m like, ah, it’s happening. It is possible. And you, in a way, are using your power and privilege. You came through door and now you’re holding the door open and inviting more people through.
Tony: Sure. A long time ago, I’m never going to remember the name of this guy. Oh, Robert Fulghum, and I can’t think of the name of his books. But anyway, he told this story in a book. So I’m going to tell a story within a story, within a story, within a story. So this could get tricky and we may want to edit the whole thing out, but here we go. So he told the story about he always goes to conferences and at the end of the conference when they say, “Who has questions?” He raises his hand and he always asks, “What is the meaning of life?” And he thinks, somebody’s going to know the answer along the way.
Tony: So one day he raised his hand and this gentleman that was speaking had been in Germany, or had been in German occupied territory during World War II and was telling stories from that. So he raised his hand and he asked this gentleman, “What is the meaning of life?” And everybody laughed and the guy goes, “Well, I’ll give you my definition.” He said, “Here’s my definition.” He said, “When I was a kid there was a German motorcycle came around the corner too fast and it wrecked and the mirror on the motorcycle broke. So I went over and I picked up that little broken shard of the mirror and what I would do is I would go around to these little holes where there were animals, or critters down inside the hole, and I would take that mirror, that little shard of mirror, and I would shine the sun down into that hole where I could see.”
Tony: And he said, “That’s the meaning of life. Our purpose in life is to shine the light we’re given into the dark places so that we can all see.” And I thought, that is such a beautiful definition. So my personal purpose in life is to facilitate the growth of others. That is what I do in every role I ever take. And the other responsibility I have though, as a privileged white male, I have the wherewithal to do what I’m doing. I have a voice. I have a platform. My role is to shine the light in places that other people don’t see. That’s it. That’s what I’m trying to do.
Stephanie: You’re doing it. I mean clearly you’re doing it. That’s amazing. That’s so amazing. Thank you so much for sharing that.
Tony: You’re welcome.
Stephanie: How do we do more and more of that? That’s the connectivity and that’s when I learn from people like the voices you’re sharing. I’m inspired. I’m compelled. I’m motivated. And then my students, and the people I work with, we all are motivated. The light starts with a little bit of mirror, but then it expands, right?
Tony: Yeah. The guest that’s up right now at the top of the list, and by the time this comes along she’ll be down the list a little bit, but it’s Sherell Dorsey from The Plug Daily, and Sherell said she was tired of the lazy journalism that was saying well there are no people of color in tech. And she’s like, I think I know some people in tech and their stories just aren’t being told. So she started The Plug Daily. Something I recommend. It’s at the top of my inbox every day and I read it every day. But she is just curating five stories of people of color in the tech industry that are making a difference.
Tony: And I think that what I do is not amazing. It is not cool. It is not great. It is the guests that are doing all the amazing, cool, great things in the world. My only role is to ask a question, hold out the microphone, and shut up. But the other thing is I think the question we all have to ask is, who is not present in the conversation? When you’re in a business meeting and you look around the table and it’s a big monolith, everybody looks exactly like me, who’s missing? Are there women? Are there people of color? Are there minorities in some way? Are there underrepresented voices that we have not brought into this conversation?
Tony: And statistics are going to show you that businesses that do that perform better over time. And even when I look around my boardroom, who is not here? When I look around my executive team, who is not here? When I look around my smallest team in the organization, who is not here? And invite them to the conversation. That’s our role as allies. We have the opportunity to invite others.
Stephanie: Absolutely. And we have this challenge in interfaith work, absolutely. First, it’s the Abrahamic traditions, and then if you only invite religious leaders because of the way ordination happens, you look around and it’s all older men. So where are the young people? Where are the people who speak multiple languages? Where are the people who are differently abled? Where are the children and the elderly? All of that. And we’re all better off when we have access to multiplicities of perspective.
Stephanie: Being human is a messy endeavor. We are made to be in relationship, and yet our fear of diversity keeps us apart. My new book explores this paralyzing paradox. Interfaith Grit: How Uncertainty Will Save Us, is available now on Amazon and on our blog. It’s for all of us ordinary readers seeking ways to learn how to engage with difference. Interfaith Grit is possible and it can save us.
Tony: I don’t know if you remember the movie, it’s now several years old, it’s called A Few Good Men, I think. It’s a Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson is playing this role. And Jack Nicholson he has this thing he says, he’s like, “You want me on the wall. You need me on that wall.” And one day I was in a conference, this was probably about 1999, so the conference had a little sort of texting app that everybody could put things on Twitter and whatever we were doing. We all had … We could see the comments that each other were making on our phones. So the speakers were up speaking and as they were speaking somebody texted out a comment and said, “Ladies, we need you on that wall. We want you on that wall.” And I looked up at the panelists and it was all white men.
Tony: And until she had sent this text and it had come up on my phone, I was blind to that. A fish does not see water. It doesn’t notice water. So it’s just that taking a beat. Noticing. That’s our job.
Stephanie: Noticing. Yes. And I think you’re also pointing to, if I were going to use my Christian or religious language, a virtue of this kind of work is curiosity. Why aren’t we curious about, huh, are there people in tech that don’t look like me? What are the other virtues that you see as maybe essential for leaders or organizations that are going to do well, or make a difference? So curiosity would be one.
Tony: Yeah, yeah. Empathy is just a huge component of this. So you can’t serve a need that you don’t understand. And the people who are being really successful with social entrepreneurship, or non-government organizations, or any of these kinds of organizations that I start with, they spend time just sitting in the problem with people. I heard a woman who said, “I was from this small town in South Africa. I had gone off to university and I was doing all this stuff, and when I came back I said, well I know that world. So I’m going to back in here and I’m going to bring some solutions to it.”
Tony: Well, she came in to the solutions, utterly failed. But then she was humiliated enough, she was humble enough, and humility obviously, is another one of those values. She was humble enough that she sat in the problem with people and she just listened. And she observed and listened and watched and then realized that her solution would never have worked because she just had totally missed a cultural cue here. So I think that empathy … I think curiosity is a big part of it. Empathy is a big part of it. Humility, obviously, is a big part of it. I mean come on, it comes right down to I see you in me and I see me in you, and we both are just human beings just doing our best job possible.
Tony: And if you take an organization, whether it’s a for profit or non-profit, and a person within that organization is not performing at their best, almost every time there is something in that environment that keeps them from performing their best. So looking at the setting in which they are trying to win. Culture will eat the lunches strategy every time. So if we are thinking about why do people do what they do within any setting. Why is there female genitalia mutilation? Well there are cultural reasons for that and it can be easy to say, “Well, that’s a horrific thing. I have a judgment about that. It should never happen. Stop.” But until that judgment comes from the people who’ve been practicing that for so long, nothing is ever going to change. So it really is about sitting in the problem with the people and being full present with them.
Stephanie: That feels counterintuitive. I mean we … Flint water crisis, I need to go. Teach For America, I need to go. I’m going to change the lives of this community. I’m going to rush in. Almost the way we’re trained in higher education in North America, is me as an individual, I have been prompted to have individual ideas and I’m going to be successful and it’s about me. It’s about me as a teacher. I’m going to go change the community. And what you’re suggesting is counter cultural to that.
Tony: Yeah. We love our fire hats, don’t we?
Tony: Throw on that fire hat and we’re going to rush in and we’re going to put out the fire. And it doesn’t help that a lot of the narrative is sort of the hero’s journey where we’re saying, the hero came on and everything was okay. But if you really, really look at a hero’s journey, it’s like the hero was out of his or her element and then there was a mentor on the side that was helping them, but they sort of stumbled their way through it. I often say, “I am the Forrest Gump of business.” It’s like, coincidence after coincidence. Serendipity after serendipity. I have sort of made my way forward. But there’s always been someone who has helped me along to that next step. So it’s just having that humility to say, “I don’t have all the answers and it would be arrogant of me to come in and impose my views on a community.”
Stephanie: Yeah. Is that a practice? Will I get better at that if I adopt that as a posture?
Tony: I think yes and the thing that helps is getting really nocked in the nose every now and again. Some of my greatest lessons learned were from just massive failures. But if I have the humility to just step back and to say, “You know what, I really got that wrong and what can I learn from this and began again.” Failure is an opportunity to begin again more intelligently. And if we’re willing to be those lifelong learners, if we’re willing to be open to the lessons, if we’re willing to just say, “I don’t know.” Then I think that can make a big impact.
Stephanie: Wow. Yeah. I want to do a class now and deconstruct the hero’s journey, because I don’t know if you’ve seen, there’s an Instagram account, White Savior Barbie, and-
Tony: Oh, yes.
Stephanie: Right? No it’s perfect. This is exactly what we’re talking about. And it’s this really creative woman who positions … It would be like me taking a picture with a crowd of African children, or Haitian children. Look at me I came to an orphanage. So she’s poking fun at as a way to help us see that it’s not about me. So yeah, the hero’s journey, we love that arc of the individual, but what are we missing. We’re missing the failure. We’re missing the relationships. We’re missing the mentoring. We’re missing the fact that the hero is in a place of disequilibrium.
Tony: Right. I’m not a big fan of Dr. Phil, but he has this phrase where he says, “It ain’t about you.” Right?
Tony: And every now and again I’ll be in the middle of just a big kerfuffle, or just some thing, and I’m going, oh no, there’s all this chaos going around and what is happening right now? And I’ll go, “It ain’t about you.”
Stephanie: That’s a good one.
Tony: I think that is the attitude that is helpful. When we bring it into the conversation, do you want to be serve? Then be a servant. That doesn’t mean that I’m unimportant and I’m just so lowly and I’m so horrible. Humility isn’t about a lack of self-esteem. It’s not about a lack of self-worth. It’s about a sense of self that is so true and it’s a practice that I will spend the rest of my life to trying to get right, but it’s a sense of self that is willing to say, “I don’t know. I don’t have all the answers.” Because community is really the answer. When we connect with the community, the community knows the answer. They just may not know that they know the answer.
Stephanie: Right. What you’re talking about is good relationship. In any relationship, I don’t walk around saying … Well, I mean this is one of my personal character flaws. I like to be the right one. But no, I would never in an individual relationship constantly move over the other person. So why would I do that in an organization, or in a social setting.
Stephanie: Okay. Thank you so much. I have so much more to learn. I’m going to return again and again. I love the resources you’ve shared. Thank you for amplifying and for opening the door for all of us to come through.
Tony: Well, I’m happy to be here. The thing that helps me a lot, is remembering that I didn’t always get it right. Instead of letting that be a source of shame, just let that be something that energizes me and drives me to say, “Let’s just try again. Let’s keep moving forward.” And in this moment the only thing I can do is what we talked about earlier, just shine that light in the place that doesn’t have enough light. I am blessed to have what I have, so how do I just redirect that in a direction that other people aren’t looking.
Stephanie: Amen. Great.
Stephanie: Thanks for listening to In Times Like These, where we explore issues of politics and faith and learn from one another how to navigate difference for maximum flourishing. In Times Like These, is a product of CLU Live at Claremont Lincoln University. For more, subscribe, share, and visit us at claremontlincoln.edu.
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In this episode, we discuss:
- Why “I don’t know” is the most powerful tool a leader can have
- Why workers, consumers, and leaders want to be better citizens now more than ever
- How “voting with your dollar” gives you a great deal of power as a consumer and citizen
- Why diversity in all aspects of leadership and social impact enrich all of us
- How to be an ally, in whatever business or social impact area we work
Top 3 takeaways from this week’s episode:
1. “If we’re willing to say, ‘I don’t know,’ then we’re able to make a big impact.”
Many of us mistakenly believe that leadership is something like being a hero. We love putting on our firehats and rushing in to save the day! But to enact lasting change, we need instead to listen and learn from others. Humility is a key ingredient for transformative social impact. Learn more about this paradox, and how to practice humility and relationship in your leadership.
2. “It really is about sitting in the problem with people and being fully present with them.”
Community impact takes community. Successful entrepreneurs have learned that it’s not about them. As Dr. Phil says, “It ain’t about you.” Instead, being in relationship with the community surrounding a given issue can surface new wisdom and provide opportunities for innovation. What would your ideas for positive social change look like when connected with community?
3. “Our purpose in life is to shine the light we’re given into the dark places so we all can see.”
Being a leader is about amplifying, not telling others what to do. One responsibility we all have is to look around and notice those who are not part of the conversation. Why is that? We have the opportunity to invite others, and we have the rich pleasure of learning from those we meet. All of this connection is required for true, lasting social innovation.
Mentioned on the episode:
- The work of Robert Fulghum
- The Terrifying, Magical Life of a Social Entrepreneur, with Emily Hunt Turner, All Square
- The Many Side-Hustles of Sherrell Dorsey, ThePLUG and BLKTECHCLT
- Sherrell Dorsey and ThePLUG
- White Savior Barbie
- “Consumer-Goods’ Brands that Demonstrate Commitment to Sustainability Outperform Those that Don’t,” report by Nielsen
How to connect with Tony and with us:
You can find Tony on:
You can connect with me on Twitter here: @SVarnonHughes.
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About the Podcast
In Times Like These explores the difficult spaces we humans navigate in culture and religion, in dialogue and doubt. We talk to voices from the field, in law, activism, civil rights, and from places of struggle and places of deep learning. In Times Like These, we unpack the most troubling issues of politics and faith we face, together.
In Times Like These is hosted by Dr. Stephanie Varnon-Hughes and is a CLU Live production by Claremont Lincoln University.
Claremont Lincoln University offers a social entrepreneurship master’s degree program called Social Impact.