Book Review: The Conviction to Lead

Do we really need another leadership book? That was the thought I had when I saw that Al Mohler had written this book a few years back. I am grateful for Dr. Mohler and his leadership, but I am more inclined to read him as a cultural commentator or when he is expounding on theology. So, I saw the release of The Conviction to Lead in 2014 and promptly ignored it.

However, I am teaching a leadership class in our church right now and we are working to create a curriculum and pipeline for leaders in our church. So, I picked up a couple of new leadership books and decided I would give Mohler a try.

I was pleasantly surprised because Mohler’s book is not like any other leadership book I can remember reading. Of course it is explicitly Christian and grounded in a biblical conviction of leadership and dominion (in the Genesis 1:28 kind of way). Mohler’s book is also interwoven with personal stories from his experiences at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary where I received my M. Div. and Ph. D., so I really enjoyed the autobiography included in the book.

But it isn’t only what this book includes that makes it valuable. There are three things this book lacks that set it apart from other books on leadership and make it a must-read for anyone who wants to grow as a Christian leader.

  1. No apology for leadership. The reality is that we live in a world that does not respect leaders and does not respect leadership. People talk about leadership, but in reality, most people want leadership by consensus. Mohler acknowledges the loneliness of leadership, the necessity of leadership, but he also speaks of the power of leadership as he writes, “there is no escaping power, and there is no way to lead without it.” Leaders exert power and they necessarily bring about change. They even force change when necessary. This kind of leadership is not popular in a world dominated by group think, open offices, and flat management structures. But, real change, real progress, real leadership only happens when someone is willing to be authoritative, powerful, and courageous. Mohler doesn’t apologize for leading and other leaders would do well to learn to emulate him in this area.
  2. No template for leadership. Every organization is different and every leader is different. The leadership paradigm of Southern Seminary doesn’t fit Malvern Hill Baptist Church or your church or any other organization. Likewise, I’m not Albert Mohler. What works for him will not work for me. Instead of self-help and how-tos, Mohler focuses on leadership characteristics and qualities. He doesn’t tell leaders how to speak, just tells them that they must be good speakers. He doesn’t tell us how to manage our time, just reminds us that we must. I appreciate a leadership book that is focused more on developing the leader than managing the leader.
  3. No shame. I sometimes walk away from books on leadership and feel like I’ve been beaten half to death. Mohler doesn’t spend time waxing on about all of the areas his readers are failing, he focuses on the principles to which they should be attending. Dr. Mohler is a very productive man who sleeps very little (though I sometimes wonder if the stories have risen to legend), but rather than speak of all of his accomplishments and his productivity, he focuses on principles that his readers can apply to be more effective and faithful leaders.

Quotable:

  • Management is not the same thing as leadership (16).
  • When a leader walks into the room, a passion for truth had better enter with him (21).
  • This book is written with the concern the far too much of what passes for leadership today is mere management. Without convictions you might be able to manage, but you cannot really lead (26).
  • The most important truths come live through stories, and faithful leadership is inseparable from the power and stewardship of story (37).
  • Real leadership doesn’t happen until worldview are changed and realigned. You might be able to lead a group to build a house without trying to shape worldviews, but you cannot build a movement that way (47).
  • The fact is that most human beings evidently do not like to think. At the very least, most seem quite satisfied to never think in a concerted, critical, and careful way. Such leaders never thing strategically, consistently, or critically (59).
  • If the right decision were always clear to everyone, we would not need leaders (63).
  • If you don’t have a message, don’t try to lead (93).
  • We are the stewards of time and opportunity (137).
  • Loyalty grows wehre it is cultivated and admired (153).
  • The leader shows up when it matters, every time (152).
  • Institutions and organizations don’t actually need a president every day. “But on the days a president is needed,” [Duke McCall] said, “it is because only the president can make the difference between success and failure.”
  • Leadership requires maturing, learning, adapting, rethinking, and retooling. None of these come fast or easily. Far too many leaders move from one position to another, over and over again, precisely because they do not want to endure the lessons that only time and tenure can teach. They jump from one position and land in another, building a long resume but casting no shadow. The rob themselves and those they lead of the lessons gained only by perseverance and experience (196).
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