Not Leadership

Or - How To Pretend to be Relevant

by Midnight Freemason Emeritus Contributor
R:.W:. R. H. Johnson, PDDGM

Don't want to read the whole article? You must not be Leadership Material. So here is the TL;DR

  • Freemasonry as an organization has no stance, responsibility, or obligation to teach Leadership.
  •  Leadership can be learned within Freemasonry, but it is no different than how it is learned in other organizations – including real-life work experience. We are not special – which means, it isn’t our mission.
  • There is nothing wrong with hosting leadership training as long as it is: 1. Secondary or tertiary to the understanding, application, and continuing study of the Philosophy of Freemasonry. 2. Does not demand a Grand Lodge Budget line-item expense that surpasses that of Masonic Education. 3. Qualified individuals who are leaders in the real world, with actual credentials, and have resumes that have been validated, must lead these workshops or camps.

Freemasonry's job, responsibility, or position isn't to teach leadership. This opaque focus seems to be a trend that certain Grand Lodges or Grand Jurisdictions attempt to lock on to. It's obvious why we do it. It's something tangible and or practical that, as men in modern times, we can use in our daily "toolbox." However, that's not why this Fraternity exists.

I will say this right now: Leadership skills can be developed and honed within the Fraternity, just like in any organization where one takes an earnest part. To be clear, we're not unique in building leadership skills. The last time I checked, leadership is not a secret. It is not a mystical element. It is not a spiritual element. It is simply a tool to assist the human in navigating the various functions of life.

If we are focusing on leadership for any tangible reason, perhaps it's just that the Westgate has been left unguarded for so long that we find ourselves flooded with dullards and incompetent men--so much so that we find our only recourse is to offer some Masonically-themed remedial leadership training, packaged as something relevant, ala Ted Talk.

We must also ask the pertinent question: If we are to teach leadership, then who are the teachers? Indeed, those who lead our Fraternity are not always in positions of leadership for their ability to lead. More often than not, it's who you know, and more often than that, cronyism.

To lead an organization, one must be at the forefront of thinking. They must be progressive. They need an understanding of various business disciplines, such as budgeting, profits and losses, marketing, and an overall vision--which should, if we're to "Try Freemasonry," as Past Grand Master Dwight L. Smith said it so plainly, harken back to the very reason our organization was founded in the first place.

What PGM Smith is referring to when he says, "Try Freemasonry," isn't leadership. While not always true, but true enough, a well-respected Freemason in my Grand Jurisdiction named Ralph once said, "Men who aspire to title and rank in Freemasonry never made it in business."

Why bring this up? Because what we commonly see are men with a psychological void within their lives. Many of these ilk, likely, were never given a chance to be genuine, respected leaders, and so, they focus on their opportunities to grow and become leaders within our Fraternity, whether they are qualified or not. Never mind the issues of aforementioned cronyism or odd appointment choices within our organization--oh, don't forget the "They have been in the line for so long."

It's high time we get back to what Freemasonry was all about, outlined in some of our earliest documents. They are those things that contemporary Masonic authors are writing about today. Go ahead and search Freemasonry all over the Internet. You'll find only a few books on the practical nature of the Craft. Two of them might even be written by yours truly. The other, Matt Gallagher's excellent book, "Practical Masonry" is wonderful. Other than these, 99% of the books are philosophically based, spiritually minded, and generally speaking *gulp* esoteric in nature.

By and large, our Grand Lodges are the only people writing anything of substance on Freemasonry in the realm of administration leadership.

Nobody interested in Freemasonry (outside people looking to grow membership) writes about these [administrative and leadership] things. This begs the question, "Why are Grand Lodges focusing on them?" For them, it's membership value. To most, it's a last-ditch effort to find something meaningful and tangible for the modern man to grab onto.

Why? Because we don't know how to teach anything else. The secret to leadership in Freemasonry is often, "I say you do something, and you do it." "I say jump", you say "how high?" That's it.

If you follow the rules, donate to the charities, hobnob with the right folks, and don't make waves, you'll find yourself creeping up the ladder, perhaps even one day wearing the purple of the Fraternity.

To avoid painting the Fraternity with too large a brush, it must go without saying that there are those within our Craft who have reached the top, and many of them have a clear vision of what Freemasonry represents.

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in, especially when the goals set by previous leaders may not align with your own. For instance, instead of focusing solely on membership increases, you may emphasize education--not just the knowledge that men can acquire outside of the Craft, but something more profound.

I recall a particular instance when I had dinner with a Master Mason from my jurisdiction who had been named Mason of the Year by our Grand Jurisdiction. He was a retired Master Chief for the US Navy who told us about a mischievous recruit and the punishments he had received. When the recruit's mother finally got in touch with the Master Chief, she began to yell at him about her son's situation, claiming it was the Navy's job to make him a man. The Master Chief calmly said to the squawking mother, "No, Ma'am. Your job was to make him a man, and my job is to make him a soldier." He then hung up on her.

This story resonates with Freemasonry. Too many of those in positions of authority and power take the position that it is somehow Freemasonry's job to pick up where their families and social circles failed.

As for the mission of the Worshipful Master, it's written in many jurisdictions that the Worshipful Master is to impart "wise and important truths." This is especially important given that Freemasonry is focused on esoteric practices.

If you want to improve your public speaking skills, I recommend joining Toastmasters. The Armed Services, collegiate programs, or Regional Occupation Programs are all excellent options for leadership training--far better than we are, anyway.

As I stated earlier, leadership can be developed within the Fraternity, and this is no different than any other institution. Good leadership grows within individuals who have a healthy relationship with the Craft--and it grows at the speed of the individual--it's not the point within the circle by any means.

Here we are--jurisdiction by jurisdiction consistently focus on this one element--and I will repeat it: leadership training should not be the primary focus of Freemasonry. Officer training? Awesome. Learning about running a meeting using Rules of Order and Jurisprudence? Wonderful. Learning the meaning of the Grand Lodge Code? Beautiful. This isn't what we're talking about, and this brings us to what we need to focus on.

Freemasonry should be centered on the education of individual members, which covers a wide range of philosophies related to self and their relationship to their Grand Architect. It is, after all, what those working tools represent--Psychological aspects that reform how we act and think. Any administrative leader within the Craft who cannot understand this simple idea has no place within the administration of the Fraternity--it's foundational. I'd be willing to bet this plain truth has alluded too many well-meaning Brothers.

Freemasonry's leadership seems to have recognized the need to offer something valuable to its members, which they believe to be an innovative approach. I quote famed Masonic author Walter Lesly Wilmshurst and hope they continue to evolve their thinking.

"It is absurd to think that a vast organization like Masonry was ordained merely to teach to grown-up men of the world the symbolical meaning of a few simple builders' tools or to impress upon us such elementary virtues as temperance and justice—the children in every village school are taught such things; or to enforce such simple principles of morals as brotherly love, which every church and every religion teaches; or as relief, which is practiced quite as much by non-Masons as by us; or of truth, which every infant learns upon its mother's knee. There is surely, too, no need for us to join a secret society to be taught that the volume of the Sacred Law is a fountain of truth and instruction or to go through the great and elaborate ceremony of the third degree merely to learn that we have each to die. The Craft whose work we are taught to honor with the name of a "science," a "royal art," has surely some larger end in view than merely inculcating the practice of social virtues common to all the world and by no means the monopoly of Freemasons. Surely, then, it behooves us to acquaint ourselves with what that larger end consists of, to enquire why the fulfillment of that purpose is worthy of being called a science, and to ascertain what are those "mysteries" to which our doctrine promises we may ultimately attain if we apply ourselves assiduously enough to understanding what Masonry is capable of teaching us."

If Freemasonry wants leaders in the community, it should attract leaders rather than attempt to teach leadership by a Brother who has the capacity in their life to dedicate.

Let's remember that iron sharpens iron.


RWB Johnson is an Emeritus Managing Editor of the Midnight Freemasons blog. He is a Freemason out of the 2nd N.E. District of Illinois. He currently serves as the Secretary of Spes Novum Lodge No. 1183. He is a Past Master of Waukegan Lodge 78 and a Past District Deputy Grand Master for the 1st N.E. District of Illinois. He is currently the WM of Spes Novum 1183, the Premier Education Lodge in the state of Illinois. He is the current V:. Sovereign Grand Inspector for AMD in IL. Brother Johnson currently produces and hosts weekly Podcasts (internet radio programs) Whence Came You? & Masonic Radio Theatre which focuses on topics relating to Freemasonry. He is also a co-host of The Masonic Roundtable, a Masonic talk show. He is a husband and father of four and works full-time in the executive medical industry. He is the co-author of "It's Business Time - Adapting a Corporate Path for Freemasonry", “The Master’s Word: A Short Treatise on the Word, the Light, and the Self – Annotated Edition” and author of "How to Charter a Lodge: A No-Nonsense, Unsanctioned Guide. More books are on the way.

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