I like and respect Al Mohler a lot, and am happy to report that this book, The Conviction to Lead, was in no way a disappointment. I went in with my expectations high, and was not let down. That’s always a plus.
There are certain kinds of books that I try to graze in regularly, trying to stay connected to the genre. Wordsmithy books are one example, as are preaching books, and books of poetry, and (in what may be perceived as a weird and strange lurch) business guru/leadership books.
When it comes to leadership literature, there is a lot of it out there. The cornucopia of airport bookstores has leadership books just tumbling out into the terminal. I am reminded somehow of The Onion’s spoof of a Cosmopolitan cover — something about 88,000 ways to please your man in bed. Past a certain point, the people reading that kind of stuff aren’t really learning anything. It is more like they are being titillated — and the application is that there is not much application. When you read a lot of leadership books, you can start to feel like you are actually leading — but he who hears the word without doing it deceives himself.
Mohler starts by saying that he wants to do something different, and I think he succeeds in this. He states in the first lines that he wants to “change the way you think about leadership.” Mohler is clearly conversant with the current literature on leadership, and what he says overlaps with the best of what’s out there, but he clearly has the whole thing pointed in a different direction. But however good this book is, and it is, it still needs to be applied.
He begins with the need for grounded conviction. He moves on to beliefs that are directly connected to action. He underlines the need for convictional intelligence — not dogmatic bombast, and not fluffy nuance. He understands, and insists upon, the need to shape the narrative. People need to have someone help them form the story they are in. He connects this — as it must be connected — to the worldview of those who are following, and how the leader is responsible to shape and inform that worldview.
A wise leader is passionate, but this passion has to be built on the bedrock of foundational conviction. Thinking and teaching are essential. But, as should go without saying, you don’t have anything to think about or anything to teach if you are not a reader. A teacher who is not a student is more of a smoke blower than a teacher. Character, honesty, and integrity all contribute to the credibility of a leader, and without credibility a would-be leader can say “let’s go, guys” all he wants. Nothing is going to happen.
There are certain mechanics of stewardship that have to be mastered — management, speaking, decision-making, along with learning the details of old media and new.
Leadership is endurance. Leadership measures the time, and evaluates the days. How would it be possible for a good basketball coach not watch the clock? All leaders will die, and so all leaders should prepare their legacies in advance. My favorite line in the book spoke to this point. “An old preacher . . . told a group of younger preachers to remember that they would die. ‘They are going to put you in a box,’ he said, ‘and put the box in the ground, and throw dirt on your face, and then go back to the church and eat potato salad” (p. 203). And Mohler quotes one of my favorite commonplaces from Charles De Gaulle to the effect that graveyards are full of indispensible men.
For any one currently in a position of leadership, or anyone who aspires to a position of leadership, this book is a necessity.