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The Conviction to Lead

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We are definitely not facing a shortage of books on leadership. These titles have sections all their own in the big bookstores, they line the airport bookstalls, and they appear on the bestseller lists with predictable regularity. Much like books on prayer or books on parenting and a select handful of other topics, it appears that there simply cannot be too many of them. Every leader wants to lead better just as every prayer wants to pray better. Readers could be forgiven if they feel skeptical that there is anything much left to say about leadership.

And yet, as Albert Mohler proves in The Conviction to Lead, not every trail has been pursued to its end. He begins this book with a warning to the reader that is equally a challenge to himself as author: “My goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one more voice to the conversation; I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.” No one can accuse him of aiming too low! Remarkably, at least in my assessment, he achieves what he sets out to do, making The Conviction to Lead a uniquely important book.

In the opening pages Mohler surveys the vast leadership industry and points out that in all the useful things that have been said about leadership, the central problem “is a lack of attention to what leaders believe and why this is central.” His burden is “to redefine Christian leadership so that it is inseparable from passionately held beliefs, and to motivate those who are deeply committed to truth to be ready for leadership. I want to see a generation arise that is simultaneously leading with conviction and driven by the conviction to lead. The generation that accomplishes this will set the world on fire.”

At the heart of the kind of leadership Mohler advocates is what he calls “convictional intelligence.” This is not an innate kind of intelligence, but one that must be developed by diving deeply into the truth of the Bible and learning to think like a Christian. It is, in its essence, Christian maturity. “For the Christian leaders, those convictions must be drawn from the Bible and must take the shape of the gospel. Our ultimate conviction is that everything we do is dignified and magnified by the fact that we were created for the glory of God. We were made for his glory, and this means that each one of us has a divine purpose. The Christian leader finds passion in the great truths of the Christian faith, and especially in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The leader must be relentless in his pursuit of truth and the application of truth to his life and his organization. Through twenty-five short chapters Mohler describes the kind of character that ought to mark the leader and looks at specific skills, habits and intellectual exercises that can make all the difference between a mediocre leader and a great one. He writes about the importance of gaining and maintaining credibility, of developing the intellect, of making wise decisions, and even of facing the new realities of a digital world.

One of the most compelling aspects of The Conviction to Lead is its semi-biographical nature, which is exactly as it ought to be. Mohler has faced great leadership challenges, the greatest of which was undoubtedly being called–while he was only in his young thirties–to lead one of America’s most important seminaries. While he draws many examples from history, and especially British history, he also draws many lessons from his own successes and failures.

But what I appreciate most is that Mohler takes the massive amount of scholarship and popular-level writing on leadership, extracts what is most valuable, and then sets it all in the context of Scripture. From the first page to the last, he is applying Scripture to leadership, crafting an understanding that is thoroughly and completely biblical. This book is truly gospel-centered; the gospel is not appended to the book, but at its heart.

I have read all of Mohler’s books and I am convinced that this is his best. Each of his previous books has been helpful in its own way, but they have generally been repurposed sermons or blog posts and have carried the weight of mixed media. The Conviction to Lead has all the marks of an original work, oozing with wisdom and dripping with passion. This is Mohler in his most natural habitat, doing what he does best. If you are a pastor or elder, if you are an owner or CEO, if you are in any form of leadership, I am convinced that this book will transform the way you lead. I highly recommend that you read it.

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