The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters by Albert Mohler. Bethany House Publishers. 224 pages. 2012. Audiobook read by Dave Courvoisier.
The latest book by Dr. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), and frequent conference speaker, is the leading contender for my top book of the year. It blends two of my passions – faith and leadership.
Mohler begins the book by stating: 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.
Mohler states that effective leaders need more than administration skills and vision. They need to be able to change the hearts and minds of those they lead.
He writes that in seminary he had to take classes in “Church Administration”; classes which he states had little to do with the church, much to do with administration and nothing to do with leadership. As a result, he had to create his own leadership studies program. This included reading historical biographies, observing the national and international scene and reading the emerging literature on political and business leadership.
He states that the church desperately needs leaders. Congregations and Christian institutions need effective leaders who are authentically Christian – whose leadership flows out of their Christian commitment. The problem, Mohler writes, is not a lack of interest, or a shortage of leadership books and seminars, but a lack of attention to what the leaders believe and why this is central.
Mohler’s 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 age of 33, Mohler became the youngest president in the 155-year history of the SBTS. He was the driving force behind the school’s transformation into a thriving institution characterized by a passionate conviction for the truth, all the while facing strong opposition from the SBTS faculty.
Mohler uses many examples from history (such as Winston Churchill), as well as his own leadership journey at the SBTS, to illustrate his points over the course of 25 short chapters. The chapter titles will give you an indication of their content:
• The Conviction to Lead
• Leading is Believing
• Convictional Intelligence
• Leading is Narrative
• Leaders Understand Worldview
• The Passion to Lead
• Leaders are Thinkers
• Leaders are Teachers
• Leadership is all about Character
• Leadership and Credibility
• Leaders are Communicators
• Leaders are Readers
• The Leader and Power
• Leaders and Managers
• Leaders are Speakers
• Leadership as Stewardship
• The Leader as Decision Maker
• The Moral Virtues of Leadership
• The Leader and the Media
• The Leader as Writer
• The Digital Leader
• The Leader and Time
• Leadership that Endures
• The Leader and Death
• The Leader’s Legacy
This is not a leadership book with a few scripture references thrown in, but has Mohler applying scripture to leadership. Tim Challies, in his fine blog Informing the Reforming, captured several good quotes from the book below:
– Christians are rightly and necessarily concerned about leadership, but many seem to aim no higher than secular leadership standards and visions. We can learn a great deal from the secular world and its studies and practices of leadership, but the last thing the church needs is warmed-over business theories decorated with Christian language.
– Without apology, the Christian leader is a devoted student and a lifelong learner. Convictional intelligence emerges when the leader increases in knowledge and in strength of belief. It deepens over time, with the seasoning and maturing of knowledge that grows out of faithful learning, Christian thinking, and biblical reasoning.
– The most important truths come alive through stories, and faithful leadership is inseparable from the power and stewardship of story. The excellent leader knows how to lead out of the power of the narrative that frames the identity and mission of the people he will lead, and the leader knows how to put his own story into service for the sake of the larger story.
– No organization that exists simply for itself is worth leading. Leaders want to lead organizations and movements that make a difference—that fill a need and solve real problems. That story frames the mission and identity of the organization, and explains why you give your life to it. The excellent leader is the steward-in chief of that story, and the leader’s chief responsibilities flow from this stewardship. Leadership comes down to protecting the story, bringing others into the story, and keeping the organization accountable to the story. The leader tells the story over and over again, refining it, updating it, and driving it home.
– Leadership is the consummate human art. It requires nothing less than that leaders shape the way their followers see the world. That leader must shape the way followers think about what is real, what is true, what is right, and what is important. Christians know that all truth is unified, and so these concerns are unified as well. Leaders aim to achieve lasting change and common alignment on these questions.
– In any context of leadership, passion arises out of beliefs. For the Christian leader, 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.
– Before anything else, leadership is an intellectual activity. While it is natural to point to action as the essence of leadership, activity is the result of thinking, and in this first stage of leadership the seeds of eventual success or failure are sown. Our actions may never reach the heights of our thinking, but you can be certain that the quality of your actions will never exceed the quality of your thinking.
– Organizations suffer and even die by indecision, but some people seem to have little or no confidence in their decision-making ability. Are they missing a decision-making gene? No, they lack the courage of their convictions, the discipline of critical thinking, or the confidence of steady leadership.
– Every great leader is a great teacher, and the greatest leaders seize every opportunity to teach well. Ideas do drive the world, and beliefs determine actions. The leader who wants to affect long-term, lasting, determinative change in an organization has to be its lead teacher, changing minds in order to transform the organization.
– Managers can do their work by ordering people to do something, but leaders are never satisfied with people taking orders. Leaders want to see every member of the organization learn what must be done, and why. Leaders are not satisfied until every individual understands the mission, embraces it, and brings others into it.
– Character is indispensable to credibility, and credibility is essential to leadership. The great warning to every leader is that certain sins and scandals can spell the end of our leadership. We can forfeit our role as leader and the stewardship of leadership can be taken from us.
– To be human is to communicate, but to be a leader is to communicate constantly, skillfully, intentionally, and strategically. The effective leader communicates so pervasively that it seems second nature, and so intentionally that no strategic opportunity is ever surrendered.
– Communication requires courage for the very simple reason that, if your convictions mean anything at all, someone will oppose you.
– The courage required for leadership and for the risk of communication is usually the everyday courage required to get up in front of people and expose yourself and your message to the scrutiny of others. If this seems too daunting, then follow. Do not aspire to lead.
– Our spiritual maturity will never exceed our knowledge of the Bible, which is an especially urgent principle for Christian leaders.
– Leaders get things done. Faithful leaders get the right things done in the right way. The essence of leadership is motivating and influencing followers to get the right things done—putting conviction into corporate action.
– Most leaders enjoy speaking, but many do not do it well, and their leadership is hampered. Speaking is an art and a craft, not a science. The most effective speakers love language and enjoy telling a tale. They experiment with different ways of using words and sentences, different strategies for constructing messages and talks. Leaders who are good speakers learn to use their voice as an instrument rather than a piece of equipment. They learn how to use humor without becoming comedians; to arouse emotion without selling out to emotionalism; and to make an audience want more, not less, from the speaker.
– If the leader is not leading in the digital world, his leadership is, by definition, limited to those who also ignore or neglect that world. That population is shrinking every minute. The clock is ticking.
– The leaders who make the biggest difference are those with long tenure. Great impact requires a lengthy term of leadership, and the leader who wants to make a difference had better make a public commitment to stay.
This is a book that I will refer to often and probably re-read on an annual basis. Highly recommended for all in leadership positions, inside and outside of the church.