Book Review: The Conviction To Lead by Albert Mohler

Albert Mohler has strong bona fides when it comes to leadership.

Two decades ago, he was a 33-year-old, little-known newspaper editor who applied to become president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He was something of a dark horse candidate, but the board of directors chose him.

His task was daunting: the board chose him to steer this seminary away from a decades-long trend towards theological liberalism. Against all earthly odds, he succeeded.

To my knowledge, Mohler has not talked much about his stunning success in turning around Southern Seminary—and I have heard him speak or preach on numerous occasions. But because he has accomplished all that he has (including writing several books, maintaining an extensive blog and a daily podcast), Mohler has become a well respected figure in modern Christianity, and with good reason.

But God’s providence notwithstanding, what qualities did Mohler possess that enabled him to succeed not just as president of a seminary, but to become such a widely recognized Christian spokesman and leader? What does he have to say about leadership that he could pass along to others?

By his own account, many of his close friends had pressed him a long time to write a book on leadership. And so, he finally sat down to write one.

The result is The Conviction To Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters. As the subtitle indicates, the contents feature 25 leadership principles. These range from very practical and basic leadership qualities like conviction, passion, management of an organization, personal time management, and effective communication to more modern necessities for leaders like the right usage of social media in this digital age.

What is especially important to Mohler is that the leader must know what he believes, and why. He states, “Our intellectual habits must be aligned with Christian truth and knowledge.”

As one who has been there, Mohler also understands that it is not enough to have convictions and desires; the effective leader must be able to both communicate the direction of the institution he is leading and get his subordinates on the same page.

“The great aim of leadership is to lead followers continually into a deeper and more comprehensive love for what is most real, must true, most right, and most important. The thrill of leadership is in seeing this happen, and long-term success depends on it.”

He also provides practical guides to help his readers as they make important decisions:

1. Define the reality. Leaving nothing out, answer these questions: Whose voices need to be heard? What will the consequences be?

2. Identify the alternatives. What are all of the options in front of me? At this point, outside advice can be helpful.

3. Apply analysis. On a sheet of paper, list the alternatives, and the pros and cons of each. How do the alternatives fit within my organization’s mission and purpose? Do I have the talent and commitment to proceed with these alternatives? Logistics, budget, personnel, and commitment should be considerations of the final decision.

4. Pause for reflection. This is not delay, just reflection; a chance to pray and deeply contemplate the decision: did I leave anything out? Does it feel right in head and heart? Am I ready to own this decision, and stand on it? Given my convictions, is this a decision I can be proud of?

5. Make the decision, and make it count. Effective leaders see their decisions through.

6. Review and learn. Good leaders learn from their decisions, and the process of making them.

From time to time, Mohler brings up how he implemented the 25 leadership principles when he became president of Southern Seminary, and then transformed it into a bastion of orthodox Christianity. But neither does he beat the reader over the head with his triumphs—a sign that he practices what he preaches.

It is difficult to find a shortcoming in The Conviction To Lead. The closest I can come to finding one is that it can be too general, and not specific enough. In other words, it feels at times like this volume is not specific enough to one type of institution—whether it be a business, church, or institution of higher learning. So if one is looking for how to implement leadership principles in a specific organization, then they will have to purchase another volume that is more narrowly focused.

But that’s relatively minor. On the whole, The Conviction To Lead is a very solid book on leadership from one who has done it, and continues to do it.

I highly recommend it.

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