The Critical Challenges Facing Masonic Leadership

by Midnight Freemason Guest Contributor
Bro. Edward A. Rund

Grand Lodge of A.F. & A.M. of the State of Illinois April 27, 1996 (Revised April 24, 2014)

INTRODUCTION

The challenges facing leaders of any organization today are particularly daunting and, given the scope and accelerating pace of changes impacting everyone, these challenges are likely to become even more demanding in the years ahead. And yet, both leaders and organization theorists continue to struggle with issues such as:

  • What is leadership and how is it to be distinguished from management?
  • How do we best define the purposes of an organization?
  • What draws people to particular products and services?
  • How is a good following to be achieved?

As I have grappled with these questions over the years, both in theory and practice, I have come to develop an image of what I believe to be the essence of good leader behavior. If you will imagine a large sheet of plate glass floating horizontally before you, upon which I toss a handful of iron filings, you can see how these filings would fall upon the glass in every conceivable direction. This is similar to the manner in which people work together in most organizations, each attempting to achieve his or her own agenda. However, if we were to take a strong magnet and pass it under the glass from one side to the other, we would observe how each of those filings, polarized by the force of the magnet, would all orient in one direction along the path of the magnet. To me, good leadership comprises those magnetic attitudes and behaviors which cause followers to orient all of their efforts in the chosen direction. Those combined energies then move the organization progressively toward accomplishing its mission and goals.

But what leader practices will accomplish such a feat? My research over the past few years suggests that it must begin with the clarification of purpose or mission, and the creation of a shared vision. A vision that stands clearly before all members of the organization such that they are powerfully drawn toward it and are willing to work diligently to bring it to fruition. Is it easy, certainly not or there would be a lot more successful leaders. This is not easy, but it is do-able with patience, persistence, and continuity over time.

As Burt Nanus states in his book entitled, Visionary Leadership, “There is no more powerful engine driving an organization toward excellence and long-range success than an attractive, worthwhile, and achievable vision of the future, widely shared.”

Societal Forces and Change

Few aspects of modern society seem more pervasive and persistent than change. It has been well documented that the pace of change that we experience in both our personal and work lives is accelerating. The scope and pace of this change, although progressing at different degrees in both developed and developing nations around the globe, has reached a level and an interconnectedness that can best be described as turbulent. Formal organizations, such as ours in particular, are subject to the effects of frequent changes in our environment, whether they appear as threats or as opportunities. Almost everyone is affected by the changes occurring all around him. Just consider the explosive energy released in the past few years related to the Internet. All of a sudden people who would never have thought of owning a home computer are clambering to figure out how many megs of this and how many mega-hertz of that they will need.

Forces of change are often perceived as coming from the job, the community, the market place or even the government; however, many of these forces are societal or cultural in origin. Emil Durkheim, a nineteenth century French sociologist was one of the first to recognize, for example, that suicide which was always believed to be an individually triggered response was in fact a societally determined behavior. That's right; given a particular time period and nation, it was possible to statistically estimate the number of suicides that would occur based upon the turmoil faced by that nation. Closer to home, consider the effect that demographics of our aging population is having on American society, or the preoccupation we have all experienced with the entertainment revolution. Whatever one's particular preference, it can become an addictive escape from life's problems. Raised on video games, our young .adults find baseball and probably Freemasonry a bit too slow moving.

In response to this pervasive change, businesses and service organizations, as well as associations are findin g they must continually adapt to a multiplicity of the socio-technical, economic, and political changes if they are to survive and thrive. As Richard Beckhard suggests, "This 'white water' turbulence is forcing most leaders to examine the very essence of their organizations. They must examine their basic purposes, their identities, and their relationships with customers or members, competitors, and communities.

The most prevalent way for organizations to adapt is through a process of planned change. When that process includes a time perspective of four to six years, and assesses both internal strengths and weaknesses as well as external threats and opportunities, it is called strategic planning.

Current Problems and Issues

In examining current problems and issues, I thought it might be instructive to use a “force field analysis” approach, whereby we determine some of the forces that are keeping men from joining and other forces that are promoting their candidacy in our Fraternity. As mentioned earlier, changing demographics in regard to age distribution; life spans; gender ratios; milestone ages such as entering marriage, becoming a parent, career moves, and retiring are having a powerful impact on American society and the way we are evolving. Increasing ethnic and cultural diversity, single person child rearing, as well as breakdowns in such developmental institutions as schools and churches are generating significant changes in our system of values. Many of these changes are producing forces which work against becoming a Mason.

There is the growing pressure of time-demands as seen in the following examples:
  1. Two wage-earner families that must share in housekeeping and child rearing
  2. Pressure to become a careerist, sacrificing many life activities for the job, and even returning to school for
    advanced education in order to achieve promotions
  3. Increasing competition for a person's attention coming from the need or interest in joining certain organizations, the
    drive for personal fitness, or the allure of entertainment in its all forms.
All of these consume the limited time available in our 24-hour days. Additionally, the cultural encouragements to be self- centered and to push for immediate gratification tend to diminish the perceived values found in "joining" others or undertaking longer term development activities, especially of a moral nature. Finally, the flare-ups, as we have seen lately in anti-masonic communications or news of abuses within other philanthropic charities that clearly cast aspersions on organizations such as ours.

Should all this seem to make growth in Masonic membership appear hopeless? Let's look at the forces that might, prompt a man to join our gentle Craft. Given the hectic pace and growing pressures of modern life, many men are looking for a place of solace and relief from interpersonal politics. They are looking for the missing meaning or purpose in their lives and a way to replace the values that give guidance, values that our superficial, throw-away society didn't provide them as they were growing up. In essence, whether verbalized or not, they are searching for the means to construct a life philosophy. Surprisingly, many men describe the need to be of service to someone or some group other than themselves or their immediate family. We see this confirmed in the growing number of volunteer activities across the United States.

Remember, humans are social beings at the core of their nature. Men, especially, long for attachment and the positive affirmation that comes with “safe and dependable fellowship”. They enjoy being with like-minded people, yet having the opportunity to experience new ways of seeing things. Obviously we, as members, have come to know that Freemasonry provides an environment and opportunity to meet many of these deeper needs. As such, we can take advantage of these forces. We can propel our association if only by increasing our effectiveness in spreading the word.
Finally, given the above considerations, it would be helpful to look at just what men do with their time at difference ages and when they might be most receptive to our message. The Masonic Renewal Committee has done a fine job in identifying and presenting this data. The important point to consider is that while we cannot eliminate the forces working against us, once they are identified, we can work together to counteract them.

Freemasonry as a Partial, yet Viable Solution

Let us begin by reviewing the purposes of Freemasonry. At the heart of our Craft is the drive for moral development, i.e., building individual character. To this I would add functional development. That is first, the practice of lifelong learning, not just in Freemasonry, but across the arts and sciences and beyond. Secondly, it includes the use of critical thinking, or the capacity to regularly examine the assumptions underlying what we read and hear and question the validity of these assumptions. The next level of purpose relates to the practical methods of changing and improving behavior. This is done through regular fellowship with brethren, observing their good deportment and patterning ours thereafter. Lastly, are the purposes of applying Masonic standards of behavior in the community, being a good citizen, and extending charity and acts of kindness wherever possible. Herein lies what I believe to be one of the ultimate purposes of Freemasonry as it is practiced today: The collective good will and exemplary behavior of more and more Masons in the community, so as to raise the general level of life quality throughout the world, making it a better and better place through the leadership and inspiration of a multitude of Masons.

If we now line up these principles of behavior and the environment they create where Masons are gathered, we will find they match fairly closely with the needs of the typical fellow as outlined above. Some examples might be, when men meet on the level and enjoy the benefits of brotherly love, they no longer need to spend time and energy keeping up their protective defenses. They can relax, be themselves, and enjoy true companionship and the solace they deeply seek. Also, they can immerse themselves in a rich and meaningful life philosophy and are likely to plumb its depths throughout the remainder of their lives, thereby sustaining that guidance before them. Such guidance will assist in making so many of those life choices which we all must face.

Now, it is unrealistic to expect that Masonry can meet most of a person's needs, but it certainly can meet many of the deeper, more spiritual ones. And there is no reason why Freemasonry cannot work alongside other institutions also providing moral development and solace.

Strategic Management for Grand and Local Lodges

For Freemasonry to do its good work on an ever-increasing scale, it must survive, thrive, and become more consistently visible as a force for good. As we continue to struggle with the overall size of our membership rolls, we often hear the debate about the importance of numbers. It is quite true that we need active, committed, and increasingly exemplary members in the Craft. Without a turnaround in the number of active Masons, we may survive, but we will not thrive and will not become the positive force we need to be in the communities of our troubled world. How can we begin to achieve this turn-around, especially in light of the hindering forces presented earlier? I think one answer must be the application of a process, which has, in many ways, brought American business back to the forefront in a world of global competition. That process is strategic management. A concept that is not difficult to define or explain, but can be a challenge to successfully implement for organizations typically resistant to change.

If you have spent even one active year in Masonry, you know we are not adverse to borrowing ideas from one another nor from the world at large, so I suggest, "Why not explore the potential benefits of strategic management at both the local and Grand Lodge levels?" Regrettably, most of us are familiar with and quite comfortable with thinking at the operational level. We plan our Lodge year or establish an annual budget, but strategic thinking takes some added effort. We will only become comfortable with it through practice.

What makes the process strategic? First, it often incorporates a time frame of four to six years, a period even in our turbulent times that permits reasonable forecasts of coming events. Secondly, and quite importantly, it takes careful consideration of the forces and circumstances in the external environment beyond the organization's boundaries. Third, the process then compares this condition with that which is internal to the organization, its strengths and weaknesses. Fourth, the process calls for the identification or refinement of the mission and creation of a vision or a word pict ure of what the members would like to see their organization become at the end of the time period. A series of change strategies are then developed to move the current organization toward its vision. This is often done by identifying strategies that will best position the organization for the future, i.e., building on its strengths and attempting to correct its shortcomings, in order to take advantage of external opportunities or to avoid the effects of outside threats and to consistently achieve its mission. Strategic management, which combining this planning with implementation, is not a mystical rite, but simply a series of practical steps.

When leaders permit their organizations to languish and decline both in membership and effectiveness, they can har dly be considered leaders. Unfortunately, this is the all too familiar case at all levels in Masonry today. We are suffering from a critical lack of creative and results achieving leadership. I fervently believe that if both Grand Lodge and lodge- level officers diligently commit to a strategic management philosophy and practice, we would see the improvement results we all dream of. It will not be easy. Freemasonry is a volunteer organization (difficult to manage for results and usually having limited resources) and filled with apathetic and untrained leaders. Even more complicating, those leaders have a year or possible two in the "sun"; the sun of ego-inflating pomp, ceremony, and fawning flattery. But, with due diligence, it can be done. It can be done through professional leadership such as the insertion of a trained executive director for a Grand jurisdiction, or it can be done by committing your lodge to the practice of training your upcoming leaders and requiring them to carry out strategic practices.

How to get underway? Following the analysis of the jurisdiction's or lodge's environment and the internal strengths/weaknesses, it seems best to start by clarifying the mission. It should be member oriented, feasible, motivating, and specific in terms of answering such questions as:
  • What is our purpose?
  • Who are our current and potential members?
  • What value do we bring to our members?
For improving the image, functioning, and well-being of the jurisdiction or lodge, an invigorating, achievable vision needs to be created through the participative involvement of as many active members as possible. In this way, the essential ingredients of commitment and ownership are obtained from the outset.

As with so much of life in the market place today, the jurisdiction's or lodge's orientation must be fully customer (member) driven; satisfying their needs and exceeding their expectations. We must realize we are competing for their time, dollars, attention, and commitment.

Will strategic management work for Masonry? Believe me; we need to make it work. I think Charles Darwin put this message most succinctly, “Those who adapted best, found they replaced the rest .”

~EAR

Bro. Edward A. Rund is a life member of Wilmette Lodge # 931 in Illinois, where he has served as Master in 1986, 1996 and 2006. He holds several honorary memberships of various “Blue” lodges around the area. He has worked in several areas of the Grand Lodge of Illinois including; District Deputy, Representative to the Grand lodge of Minnesota,  Committee member, Chairman and Director of Masonic Education and was awarded the Grand Masters Award of Merit in 2011. Brother Rund is also a member of the Scottish Rite Valley of Chicago, the York Rite bodies including; the AMD, the Sovereign College, Knight Masons and the Red Cross of Constantine. He belongs to the OES as well. Brother Rund served as the Worshipful Master of the Illinois Lodge of Research in 2001 and is a member of numerous other Masonic related clubs and societies. 

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