The Conviction To Lead

When I was pursuing my Master's degree in the early 1980's, Southern Seminary was last on my list.

The reason? Institutional drift. Southern had left its theological roots. Attend Southern? No way!

Fast forward to 2005. I was beginning Ph.D. studies and chose Southern as "the place for me." The institutional changes were remarkable. The difference was -- humanly speaking -- Albert Mohler. Mohler is the President of Southern Seminary in Louisville, KY. In this post I share some gleaning from Mohler's new book, The Conviction To Lead.


Mohler wrote The Conviction To Lead because of the gap he saw between Believers and Leaders. Believers, passionate about truth, were often woefully ignorant about leadership. Leaders, passionate about motivation, vision, strategy, and execution, were often deficient as to what they believed and why it mattered.

Mohler's contention is this: "Wherever Christian leaders serve, in the church or in the secular world, their leadership should be driven by distinctively Christian conviction" (p. 18). What is this "convictional leadership", it is "leadership that is defined by beliefs that are transformed into corporate action" (p. 133).

In writing The Conviction To Lead, Albert Mohler's goal is "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" (p. 20).

Lessons Learned

  • Leadership As Narrative: The leader draws followers into a story that frames all of life.
  • Leadership experts often tout mission, vision, and values. These realities mean little apart from "the story that explains why what we are doing is important in the first place. We need to start with the story and let the rest follow" (p. 38). Great leaders know how to identify with great stories and help others to do the same. Example: Churchill telling the British that they were part of a great national drama of honor, duty, sacrifice, and freedom. "If the story is not worthy of your own life and the lives of others, leave and find a cause worthy of your service" (p. 39).
  • Leaders Are Readers: When you find a leader, you find a reader, and for good reason.
  • Plan reading projects designed to understand a specific issue or area of knowledge. Think through what you must read, should read, and want to read. Prioritize your reading.
  • Leadership As Stewardship: Leaders never lead for themselves; they are stewards in service of Another.
  • This is one of my "re-read chapters." Mohler writes, "A steward is someone who manages and leads what is not his own, and he leads knowing that he will give an account to the Lord as the owner and ruler of all" (p. 135). Jesus said, "For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away" (Matthew 25:29).
  • The Leader As Decision-Maker: Organizations expect many things from leaders, most of all the trusted ability to decide.
  • I appreciated Mohler's framework for decision-making: (1) Define reality, (2) Identify the alternatives, (3) Apply analysis, (4) Pause for reflection, (5) Make the decision and make it count.
  • Leadership That Endures: The leader's goal is not only to last but to endure.
  • Mohler said, "The leaders who make the biggest difference are those with long tenure" (p. 191). I agree with this as to staying with a job, but not necessarily with staying at one place. Paul had an itinerant ministry of sorts, his longest stay never lasting more than three years. Paul's impact was still remarkable. This chapter was also a "re-read chapter" for me. Mohler calls for leaders to endure: "It takes time to see fruit grow on trees, and it usually takes even longer for the fruit of leadership to show itself in abundance" (p. 195).

Great Quotes

All quotes are from Albert Mohler unless otherwise noted:

  1. Convictions are not merely beliefs we hold; they are those beliefs that hold us in their grip.
  2. Without conviction, nothing really matters, and nothing of significance is passed on.
  3. Without conviction you might be able to manage, but you cannot really lead.
  4. "We will do anything for our visions, except think about them." Thomas Sowell
  5. Our habits of action may not say much about us, but our habits of mind do.
  6. The sovereignty of God puts us in our place, and that place is on God's service.
  7. Leaders lead, but they do this knowing that they are leading on another's behalf. Leaders--no matter their title--are servants, plain and simple.
  8. Leaders communicate because they cannot not communicate.
  9. Attention is also a limited resource, a fact that leaders must learn fast or learn painfully. Effective leaders develop the stewardship of organizational attention and spend it wisely.
  10. Indecisiveness is one of history's greatest leadership killers.
  11. Our followers would often rather hear a comforting untruth than an uncomfortable truth.
  12. The leader may have a day out of the office but never a day away from dependability. The leader is the one individual within the organization that is never, ever totally disconnected from those he leads--and the leader who complains about that is not qualified to lead.
  13. You cannot lead without tenacity and the unconditional commitment to getting the job done.
  14. Tenacity of purpose is what defines great leadership, and the greater the purpose, the greater the tenacity required.
  15. Humor is the virtue of allowing people to see your humanity and your comfort in being fully human, quirks and all.
  16. Leaders who want to make a difference, and to make that difference last, must write.
  17. Leaders who talk about the real world as opposed to the digital world are making a mistake, a category error.
  18. Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed. Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive
  19. Effective executives do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. Drucker, The Effective Executive.
  20. Leaders are distinguished by "their tender loving care of time." Peter Drucker

My Gratitude

I am grateful for my Southern Seminary education. At one time I was the leader Mohler describes in the beginning of his book: the passionate leader who did not think biblically about his leadership. God used my Southern experience to dramatically change that.

I heartily recommend The Conviction To Lead.