Book Review: The Conviction to Lead

“The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership That Matters” by Albert Mohler

I have a confession to make: I really don’t like leadership books.

Don’t get me wrong. I read books on leadership frequently, and I understand the value that good books on leadership add to my own ability to lead. In many ways, leadership is a very pragmatic subject, and I’ve greatly benefited from many of the ones I’ve read. I’ve just never actually enjoyed one before.

Until now.

Mohler makes no effort to hide the fact that The Conviction to Lead is categorically different from the plethora of other leadership books that have flooded Christian and secular bookstores over the last few decades. His first sentence lays it all on the line: “Let me warn you right up front—my goal is to change the way you think about leadership. I do not aim merely to add one voice to the conversation; I want to fundamentally change the way leadership is understood and practiced.

This book approaches a problem which Mohler sees in today’s evangelical culture. The church, he says, seems to be increasingly divided between two groups: “Leaders” and “Believers.” That is to say, today’s churches and seminaries are filled with those who are gifted and driven to lead well, and with those who care deeply and passionately about theology, but there is not necessarily a lot of overlap between the two. Mohler thinks there should be. This book is his effort to bridge that gap, “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.”

Leadership books speak often of different types of intelligence, building on Howard Gardner’s (no relation!) theory of multiple intelligences. Often there will be some sort of personality profile test (or “spiritual gifts inventory” in the churchy lingo) to help leaders best use their natural abilities to discover their own leadership style. This can be very useful, and Mohler adds his own twist here. He suggests another type of intelligence which strong leaders require: “Convictional Intelligence.”

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.” As leaders become committed to studying what they believe, the convictions that develop from these beliefs inform the direction in which they are leading. In turn, these convictions drive the passionate student to lead others down the same path. It’s a powerful cycle.

Mohler’s arguments are quite compelling, and very attractive. This book resonated with me, largely because it gives voice to much of my own experience. The times at which I feel I have developed most as a leader have been the times at which I was most diligently studying, learning, and forming strong convictions about everything from theology to philosophy to history and every other form of knowledge. Usually, these have been times when I myself have been led by a man of very strong conviction. So what Mohler is saying here sounded quite familiar, though I had never made the connection before.

That said, I have MUCH yet to learn about leading well, both in terms of leadership philosophy and practical concerns. This book deals with both. Mohler instructs those who read his book to seek to grow by following 25 principles, with a healthy mix of the abstract and the pragmatic. These principles also cover the entire length of a leader’s life, from how to develop the conviction and skills necessary to lead in the first place, to how to leave a legacy for future generations to continue following once the leader is gone.

Some chapters cover areas in which I am already strong (e.g., “Leaders Are Readers”), while others cover areas of personal weakness. You might say these chapters were particularly convicting, which is, of course, something to be expected in a book seeking to develop “the conviction to lead.” For me, the chapter I need to read over and over again in my current stage of leadership development is “Leaders Are Communicators.” For you it may be another area of weakness which must become a strength, but I believe every leader (or potential leader, i.e., all Christians) will benefit greatly from this book.

I don’t often recommend leadership books, but I hope you’ll read this one. Buy it here.

If you like, listen to Mohler tell you himself why you should:

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