Leadership in Masonry

Welcome to the inaugural Grand LEO column in The Ashlar. Over the next few issues, I look forward to discussing various aspects of one of the very many great benefits that come to anyone who travels a Masonic path: that of learning the lessons of and practicing sound leadership – a skill that benefits both the leader and those they work with, both in and out of their Masonic world.

There exists an entire industry in discussing and imparting leadership skills; yet as members of the Masonic world, we are offered the unique opportunity to learn, develop and practice leadership skills and techniques as part of our Masonic journey. There are as many lessons, techniques, styles and “best practices” as can be imagined. Simply go to any good bookseller or online and ask to see the section on or enter the keyword “leadership,” and you’ll see hundreds upon hundreds of books and other products “guaranteed” to make you a great leader.

One could be daunted by all these opportunities, or one can choose to be an active part of your Job’s Daughters, DeMolay, Blue Lodge, Scottish Rite, Shrine, York Rite or other Masonic organization’s life to learn many of those basic lessons that help your Bethel, Chapter, Lodge, Valley, Temple, Council and yourself. 

Regardless of what Masonic path you are on, let’s begin with just a few thoughts on the concepts and practices of leadership in a Masonic environment.

“You Manage Data and Lead People”

That phrase was uttered by one of the great women in science, technology and the United States Navy, Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, a world pioneer in the development of computer sciences and information technology. All too often it is easy to see the people we work with as parts of a spreadsheet or balance and not as complex human beings who, depending on the situation , need nurturing, guidance and, above all, an example to whom you say “follow me.”

Think about how often in our rituals we take someone by the hand or arm and physically lead them on their journey. As leaders, we are called upon to again so do, but this time in a larger context. We gently guide, add a word here and there to avoid a misstep or miscue, and lead that person to advance further. It is quite one thing to mind our budgets, dues payments and Lodge electric bills, and quite another to provide direction to our Brothers and Sisters. Pay heed to that fact.  While we may feel more comfortable in the concrete world of hard data, it is the humanity of us all that responds to our directions.

Do Not Be Afraid to Try and Fail

It is only half joking when we use the old quip, “Masonry isn’t afraid of progress – it’s change we hate!” We are rooted in the fact that many of the incredibly valuable lessons we impart are ancient ones. Our rituals demand perfection without any changes over the past nearly 200 years and more. Yet, within the perfect circle described by the compass, we do actually have the latitude to try different ways of doing many of the routines that make up the life of our Lodges.

When do you conduct Lodge education? First thing in the evening, while everyone’s attention is still focused and active? Or just a few short moments before closing, when everyone is surreptitiously noting the time, wondering what will await them for refreshment, or realizing the hour is quite late and they need to head for family and home? Why do “we always have the Table Lodge on …”? In fact, anytime you hear the statement “We always…” make it a point to ask immediately: “Why?” There may be a sound reason for it, or there may be the tried-and-true answer “Because that’s the way we’ve always done it!”

It may be time to try a new way of doing some things. Once it’s done, step back, gather with your officers and solicit their thoughts on how the new way of doing things worked and didn’t work. Likewise, get as many opinions as you can; someone among you may have new, fresh insights into what was done and a sound suggestion to make an adjustment or improvement that will enhance the new way you’ve chosen to try.  

Above all, don’t be afraid to try out a new idea. If you don’t, you’ll never know if it was an improvement or if the “old way” was a great way of doing things after all.

Try The “Three Ds of Leadership”

Your Lodge, Chapter or other entity has a lot going on at any given time. A busy Trestle Board means there’s a lot of coordination and planning happening at once.  A Master, Warden, or other officers, Chairs or volunteers can spend a lot of their time doing it all by themselves because they sense that they are alone responsible. Or they can work with their Committee and, in doing so, build those people’s sense of confidence and responsibility.  

One way to go about that is to consider the “Three Ds of Leadership.” Decide, Delegate and Disappear. How can that be useful, you may ask?

Decide

A good leadership trait is to consider what exactly the job assigned is, and then, after soliciting ideas and input, make a decision as to what you want to have done, and, in some cases, how you want the job done.

Delegate

By assigning various tasks to others on your Committee, with a deadline for completion or to update you, you are conveying a couple of important messages. First, that you trust them to do the job right. Second, that you have confidence that they will accomplish the task in a timely manner. Residing that sense of trust and responsibility gives them the psychological incentive to do the thing you’ve asked.

Disappear

Situation depending, let your Committee members then work, either collectively or on their own, until the next Committee meeting or update. Be available to answer any questions or to help them if they need to reach out elsewhere, but do not “hover” over them. Hovering or micro-management sends the unwritten message that you do not trust them to do the job you’ve assigned. They will then feel that they cannot make decisions on their own and begin to seek your direction on every single step. At that point, you are no longer leading the effort, you are doing everything yourself and have become the one being led, metaphorically, by the tasks you assigned.

Consider these first thoughts on leadership in your own context. Apply those that you find to fit your situation now, and save the others for a future leadership opportunity. We’ll look at some other ideas and concepts on the topic in upcoming issues.

Seek More Light, Quarite plus lucem

Andrew Niemyer

Grand Lodge Education Officer
PM Ionic Lodge No. 186

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