I dedicate this post to my dear friend and mentor, Don Toy, who passed away 26 December 2012. Don was the quintessential example of an empowering leader, the kind of leadership I have often written about in this blog. In this post, I cannot begin to express the value of a life like Don’s, but I do want to note some of his key qualities that stand out in my mind.
First, a little background. Don was my mentor when I was 18; he and his wife Linda took me into their home and taught me my earliest lessons about living the Christian life and about life in general. Don was the kind of leader who thrives on pouring his life into the development of others. He did that with me. He was happiest when encouraging others.
The leadership books are filled with theories about leadership but it seems to me that we could boil them down to two basic approaches: one has to do with power over, superiority over, and position over others–the other with lifting people up. It’s about empowering others, being a catalyst for the development of others, and coaxing forth the gifts and abilities of others. The first is self-centered at the core; the second is other-centered.
Don Toy was the latter kind of leader. He would never allow others to fall into despair; every obstacle, every challenge, every failure, for Don, had a way of escape, a solution, a new opportunity. Don was an encourager.
The word “encourage” means to fill another with courage. An encouraging leader is one who refuses to accept when others try to give up. Their ability to believe in you extends beyond your ability to believe in yourself. They insist that you can do more, be more, accomplish more, overcome more than you ever imagined on your own. They help you see a bigger world, to dream a bigger dream, to demand more from life, to develop skills you never knew existed.
Encouraging leaders are mentors at heart; when they are helping others grow, they are in their sweet spot. They live to lift others up and to equip them to become more than themselves.
Often such leaders go unnoticed by the systems of this world. Forbes magazine does not interview them; they don’t appear in political debates; their names don’t hang on mahogany doors.
Yet their influence is not only uncalculated; it is incalculable. Their glory lies in the people they have lifted and the goals achieved by those individuals. They don’t struggle to be on top, in front, or at the head. Instead, they step back and allow others to receive the spotlight. They live not to be served, but to serve.
The viewing was held at the local High School gymnasium and the line wound its way in an S-formation from the coffin out to the door on the other side of the room. The length of the line did not shorten for three hours. The conversations were not about the weather, or the football game coming up the next day, or about the political situation; they were all stories about the exploits of a great friend and leader whom we would all miss, but who we knew also had lived life as it should be lived.
Farewell Don. We look forward to seeing you on the other side.