You already know why but refuse to act on what you know, that’s the real problem of today.
Over these ensuing months, I have attended both in person as well as many virtual meetings, and have listened with great interest on a topic that has had one echoing feature. i.e., Why is it that the fraternity is having these continuing issues, and what can be done about it?
Here’s is where I’m going to separate myself with not only most Masons asking these questions, but also giving what would be mandated and delivered by someone in my former capacity as a turn-around specialist, which is…
The problem is: Everyone “knows why” but simply refuses to do what everyone knows should be done, and why.
It’s that simple.
I have listened to many brave individuals trying desperately not to offend as they work through some very compelling statistics that prove their points. Many are business people themselves and understand the dynamics and issues, a few have been actual clinical psychologists that understand behavior and more.
Some are even very high up the ladder as the saying goes bringing up points, arguments, and more which are both very courageous, as well as perilous for their own positions within the Craft. These men, especially, deserve our respect.
But again, many have the facts, figures, and arguments that support their positions. They get grand consensus from both attendees and more. Many up-and-down-the-line to use another fitting phrase agree with most if not all of their assertions.
Nothing happens. Again, for the umpteenth time.
Yes, it seems it’s been going on forever and in fact maybe even longer. But here’s the real issue that is the heart of the matter…
It will continue forever till it finally rendezvous with its moment of destiny known as insolvency or irrelevancy. And we’re not that far from the latter if one looks squarely at current figures and projections.
So now with the above now stated, here’s that moment in the writing where I warn “If you get ticked off easily - this is the place you close the screen and go onto other things because I didn’t get to my level (i.e., top of the business pyramid) by holding back my words.”
So, let’s just say, you’ve been warned. Let’s continue…
One of the largest issues both befalling as well as failing the fraternity is the idea and preservation of the “Progressive Line” (PL).
This construct is anathema to any business, yet we seem to believe we are uniquely fortified against its inherent dangers. Please save the “We’re not a business so it doesn’t apply!” arguments, for it’s precisely that mindset that proves my point even further.
Eventually, all following this construct, sooner or later, will wind up in the dust bin of history.
Again, time is the only variable, regardless of what any HR Department might argue, but that’s for another column.
What happens is that a PL within itself caries all the seeds and nurturing needed via its construct to perpetuate the process to progressively get worse.
That’s not a play on words.
Side note: Have you ever taken notice in any note-worthy company many a succession plan isn’t even allowed to be seen by the current management? There’s a reason, but let’s get back to where we were.
Let me give you a classic example that happens to many a business as it grows, then tries to thwart both the inherent issues that come from that growth, but more importantly, sow the seeds to collapse all that prior growth under its own weight.
Once a PL sets into any organization the thinking will go like this…
Note: This (PL) can be switched out for what’s also known as the “Managerial Mindset” for ease of discussion. Also note: The following examples are also meant to be over-simplistic for that purpose.
Let’s use putting in place 12 managers to handle the now growth of having 120 employees. That’s now 10 per manager, a reasonable fit based on the metrics of the day.
Then the employee count changes: 10 goes to 12 or 15 in some areas and 7 in others and so on. The Managerial class will instinctively look to add an “assistant manager” to help the managers with now “too many” workers and the issues they may now face i.e., more people, more problems.
However, what they’ll now say to the ones with less is: “Not only take care of your own but give them more instruction in efficiencies and so forth, after all, your workload is now lighter.”
Makes sense right? Seems to, but that’s the issue as I’ll illustrate.
The managers with less don’t (and actually more like won’t) find ways to enhance worker relations, efficiencies, or anything else with that so-called “extra time.” No, what most will do is divide their once dedicated oversight time from 10, and now expand that time to handle only seven or six or _____ (fill in the blank on your own.)
And for those truly paying attention. Did you notice as numbers went up more managers were added, but for those that went down, management did not? If so, kudos.
In other words, efficiencies are now going down as well as expenses going up. What do you say? Easy, because managers, even assistant ones, usually cost more. But there’s also another cost - they tend to not view their “work” like they once did. They fall into (and very quickly I’ll add) the premise of “That’s for others to do. (i.e., the now managed or downstream) I’m the one that tells them what needs to be done. After-all, I worked very hard to get this title!”
That thought process is also prevalent within the meritocracy format, but there are efficiencies and more that can deal with it in real-time. i.e.. layoffs, restructuring on the fly, etc., etc., etc. It’s also known as “The human condition.” In other words - any business leader worth their salt not only knows it but expects it, in order to deal with it.
That doesn’t happen where a PL is concerned. Here’s the corollary…
Using the PL construct, what happens is all that’s inherent (good, bad, or indifferent) becomes indemnified and calcified with a little to no desire for introspection as to find inefficiencies or anything else contained within itself.
In other words: all issues are derived to need correction or “managing” from entities outside of itself. Or, said differently…
“If we only had a better sales promotion, easier terms, lowered the standards for credit terms, better marketing campaigns, company parties, __________(fill in your own blank here). That would solve or at least halt our dilemma, then we could start again from there. Stronger, faster, better….” (cue Six-Million-Dollar Man theme here.)
Hint: Does any of the above sound like something you may have heard in the outside world from a company you used to frequent or were employed by right before, you know, they were gone?
This is where the inherent dangers can (and usually does) also become toxic very quickly to not just the hierarchy, but to all those in contact with them. It breeds elitist type stigma, whether it wants to or not throughout the ranks, where everyone starts thinking: “No one knows what they’re doing and it’s all just getting worse.”
To further extrapolate: A PL, both in business and politics, will enshrine itself in a category of “untouchable” status within any organization till it takes on the appearance to all onlookers as to resemble more tyrannical attributes than what the original term “progressive” seems to signal.
Again, regardless of all the good intentions for its implemented or sustained reasonings. It is one of the fatal flaws contained within the model, you can not separate it out.
Let me be clear: This is not a backhanded swipe at any leader or Line within our fraternity. What I am arguing is what the idea and ramifications of this construct facilitate over any mounting period of time and has the potential to evolve into. And “potential” is marked only by time measurements, not an eventuality, for once the process (e.g., Progressive Line) gets codified within an organization, that’s when you can start the timer to mark the beginning of the end.
Here’s a takeaway example I inferred to help bolster my arguments using the statistics and deep-dive presentation by RW Chad Kopenski of Ohio.
Note: These are my conclusions, not RW’s, and I commend him for looking at prior stats with a different eye than most which then prompted my own investigation.
In about the early 1800s, using Ohio as an example, there were about 400 Lodges and around, let’s say, 36,000 members for example purposes. There were 6 districts and six “Assistant GMs” to help the GM verify things were being done correctly.
By about 1850 there were about the same amount of Lodges, yet the membership had, for ease of discussion, doubled. (Although this is off the top of my head, I’m not that far off in the figures.)
Guess what started to grow along with it, only exponentially? Hint: “Management” of all sorts. (“Management” is interchangeable with PL for this discussion.)
Guess what hasn’t decreased commensurate with membership declines? Read “hint” above.
Please give me the rationale for why this is both the case and why it is needed?
It’s OK, I’ll wait.
Now here’s where I might really tick a few off, so if you’re still here? I’m sorry, but the rest is intended for the “adults” as they say. So here we go…
The reason why you could have so little “management” (again, all my conjecture, of course) in the early years (say 1800 through early 1900s) with an even greater workload for travel and more (They were horse and buggy and barely functioning roadways and vehicles back then, remember?) was that the idea, and the reverence, for being a Mason was both installed and ingrained in those wanting to partake in this great fraternity. The “West Gate” was extremely well guarded, Lodges knew what had to be done, enjoyed the work, and had reverence for it.
A visiting “Manager” I’ll say, could walk into a Lodge, look around, view the work, and more than imply “Looks good, maybe a tweak here and there, but I’ll see you next time.” And move on.
Today? We have made it so unqualified or unskilled labor is permitted to enter the “works” and as long as they pay a paltry fee and show-up they can (more like, will) be elevated to a higher position not only once in their local Line.” But even into the Line of higher “management.”
Now here’s what some might say is where the fly-in-the-ointment seems to appear…
And all those added Lines and titles were added (exponentially so) as membership grew throughout that period, as membership has now clearly fallen off the cliff to use another phrase, guess what appears to have remained a constant?
All those PL’s.
Here’s another troubling “fly” as they say…
Again, anyone that steps into a PL will now progress to then replace a possible over-traveled, burnt-out, maybe not fully ready for prime-time predecessor ahead of him.
Why “burnt-out?” As I insinuated prior: “Management” now has to not only oversee Lodges that may be less than fully functional, but they don’t really have the “working tools” of real management acumen to do anything about it. It’s a very soul-draining process to everyone involved and caught in this Catch-22 predicament.
Once again (I know I’m saying that a lot, but it’s important), Remember their only requirement? They said, “OK, I’ll join the line.” From that point forward, “moving on up” is a near guarantee, not to mention it also comes with a spiffy new title and badge every time he/they “progress.”
Here’s another “bonus” as they say, that many don’t contemplate, but surely many just might. Ready?
Now, when something comes up on the TV talking about how “powerful” Freemasons are, whether they’re alone or with friends, they get to nod and imply “Yep, that’s right, have you seen my new ring? Just wait till I tell you my new title!”
Again: How will this all be accomplished?
Hint: All for about the price of just one, yes, just one steak dinner at a fancy restaurant - once a year. (Some less, much less.)
To reiterate, so the point is not lost: All one has to do is spend about the same amount they would on an easily forgotten meal, wait out one term, and they’ll progress to the next level, then the next, and next and so on. Rise, repeat. Till next thing you know -
they may be a hares-breath from the most important and coveted position in all Masonry.
Think about that very carefully, because it tells one quite a lot if they dare to actually think about it, truthfully.
How do we know this? Because that’s the way a “progressive line” system works, meaning…
No matter where you start on the ladder or why you're on it at all. As long as you “get on it” progression and/or accession within the ranks higher, higher and higher is all but guaranteed. Whether you deserve to be there or not. After all - you showed up! That’s everything today and basically all that’s required. And last but certainly not least, today you’re basically begged, never mind asked, to “Get in the line!”
Who in their right minds thinks this is a good idea? Let alone, thinks it’s so great as to continue on with it.
This not only allows for men to be in leadership positions they may not be ready to ascend to. But worse, they may not understand precisely how or what is actually plaguing aspects of the Craft and will enact measures they think will help solve something, but will actually make matters even worse. (Also known as the “HR fallacy of management dynamics,” but again, I digress.)
The PL construct will not allow for radical change when that change is either needed or demanded. It’s far too easy for all involved to argue: “Well, next year they can look at all this, let’s just finish out this year (for they’ll be gone) and leave it up to them. After all, it’s their year to do just that, that’s why they're elected!”
See the conflict here?
In my opinion… (as if I was hired by the fraternity to make such recommendations.)
Any and all progressive lines for accession should be halted immediately. Meritocracy at every level should be the overwhelming and imperative stance from here on out. Again, immediacy is the working operative here.
If GL’s need to be cut for non-fulfillment of worthy candidates to fill their ranks - they should, with immediacy. If Lodges can’t pick themselves up by their own bootstraps and begin fulfilling the original intent and commitment that Freemasonry was founded on - they should close. Charters should be pulled with ease from Lodges that are sullying the reputation and look of the fraternity. i.e., They resemble a frat house both in dress, as well as regard to the “work.”
If today’s WM position is overburdened trying to fulfill antiquated things piled on over years via GL edicts or expectations that may no longer make sense but are continued because “That’s the way we’ve always done it!” They should be struck and rescinded, again with immediacy.
Position within any Line should be voted on for meritocracy with little to no expiration date within reason. i.e., You don’t want to enable fiefdoms, but you also don’t want to mandate good men needing to vacate when needed most.
Again, I know this isn’t an easy process, but it needs to start instead of asking “Why?” any further. We know why we just won’t do it, everyone says it with me: “Not on my watch!”
We are far too close to a possible “extinction” type moment in time, meaning, we’re really out of time. The time to do is now, enough talking has already been done. Sorry to be so frank, but that’s what I do. Let’s continue…
Non-performing Lodges need to close, merge, or whatever. The idea that one Lodge can’t mix with another because it has “too much pride” and is allowed to rarely if ever, form a quorum and perpetuates a feeling and look of dispirited members indefinitely is a working insult to anything this fraternity supposedly stands for using just the basic “trowel” for understanding.
The onerous has to be put back on the idea of men that want to be Freemasons because of what being a Freemason truly signifies. i.e., The quality and dignity of the man to himself, his family, his brothers, the fraternity, and the world as a whole. Not: I have a dues card therefore “I am.”
No, sorry, but that’s a mistaken assumption.
The fraternity is now at a point in history where it must decide not only: Where are we going and why?
But more importantly…
With whom, precisely?
We don’t need more leaders to lead men that don’t understand where the fraternity needs to head, or worse, don’t want it to go there in the first place. (Think and want the social club ideals and status.)
No, what needs to be done and what would be done in any business facing our current dilemma is painfully obvious…
Reduce management, meritocracy not progressive advancement, and last but certainly not least…Guard that “West Gate” with as much zeal and effort as can be exerted as to make the idea of Freemasonry invaluable to those looking for it, filling the ranks with far more competent and willing men that understand it all, and, will help work even harder to get it where it deserves to be: As a beacon of light for the dignity and sovereignty of Man under the auspices of The Grand Architect.
Other than that I have no strong feelings on the matter.
Mark St. Cyr