The following article comes from the book Alberta Workshop which is a compilation of the theme speeches of the first 25 years of the Masonic Spring Workshop held each April in the Mountains west of Calgary, Alberta. Bro. Tom Jackson (Pennsylvania) called this the best workshop available to rank and file Masons anywhere.


Bro. R. G. Aberdeen

Can we preach one thing and practice another? successfully? And if we do, can we call ourselves Masons?

Gerry Berry pointed out that what our Constitution states or implies about the democratic election of our leaders and how, in fact, they are selected are in most cases two different things! Myron said that in most Lodges, progression through the chairs is virtually automatic! You’re appointed to the junior chair and provided that you have a reasonable command of the “Ritual’s English” and you attend a fair percentage of the meetings, you will succeed to the throne!

Our elections are mere formalities, just for the record. In the newly-revised Constitution this fact is recognized and the procedure officially simplified. the time-consuming process of balloting is no longer required for unanimous nominations, a shortcut already taken by many Lodges. All we have to do now is write the name of the next-in-line on a piece of paper, get him to sign it and declare him “elected”! And how do you get to be “next-in-line” for succession to the throne? You’re appointed as such by the newly-installed Master, that’s how!

And What’s really wrong with that, anyway? Look at the facts: the Master-elect has to decide on your appointment long before he’s installed and you can be darn sure that he won’t be allowed to appoint anyone that the Past Masters don’t approve of! And who’s better to judge the qualifications of the man who will eventually become Master, a group of Past Masters or a bunch of side-benchers? The ones with the most experience, of course! After all, this system has worked for years in every level of government. when you go to the polls to cast your ballot, you’re not voting for a man that YOU chose, you’re voting for a man chosen by the experienced politicians of the party. A man chosen because he will follow the party line, because he knows something of politics and because he has demonstrated his ability as a leader. Often he is chosen years before his election to the HIGHEST office and groomed through a series of posts of ever-increasing responsibility.

Where do these men come from? Where do they develop their leadership ability? One politician commented recently that we are drifting from the solution of local problems by local government because we are neglecting to develop effective leaders within the community. We need strong community leaders today more than anything else in the world, leaders who think more of the good they can do than of their own advancement! But to function intelligently and effectively as a leader in ANY community organization requires a knowledge of the “rules of the game” and of the skills and procedures necessary for leading.

The Masonic Lodge is one of the finest and probably the most pleasant place to learn these rules and skills; and to develop and practice leadership! Here, among friends, the ordinary citizen can learn the process of representative organizations and train himself for the vital responsibilities of community leadership! However, training for the tasks of citizenship can not be had by simple observation or by reading a book. We can learn to do these things only by doing — like learning to drive a car, and some instruction and guidance IS needed!

How do we, as Masons, guide and groom our potential leaders as they progress through the chairs? Do we appoint them to a junior office and expect them to perform the duties of that office from the explanation given during the installation ceremony? If they turn in a poor performance or are found wanting do we simply warn them to shape up and if that warning goes unheeded, do we then drop them as some have suggested? Do we just push them off the ladder? How could we help them to acquire the skills and learn the procedures of leadership?

Myron suggested that we make use of the knowledge and experience of our Past Masters in forming schools of instruction for our junior officers, but is it enough to assist them in the performance of their duties? What about all the other things that EVERY Mason should know? What method of instruction can we employ to teach these?

Brother H. L. Haywood offered these thoughts some years ago: “Masonry is a great teaching organization, but it differs from all other teaching institutions by the method it employs; indeed, if differs from them so radically that its method is unique. Where they use books, set statements, speeches, lectures or schoolroom methods, it uses symbolism ... there is no official statement or creed; everything is conveyed to you by symbols.” Myron quoted him saying: “One of the greatest purposes of masonry is to set a man to the task of understanding these symbols for himself.” Later Brother Haywood said: “Others will assist you. You can read books, you can use your own powers of observation. Watch, reflect, think, follow the clues; note one symbol helps to explain the other.”

Brother Haywood was speaking of the teachings of Masonry, the moral lessons of the Degrees, and I’m sure no Mason will disagree with his words — but we were discussing the lessons of leadership and the necessity for the instruction and guidance in learning THESE lessons. Let’s examine the nature of the learning process and the fundamentals of providing instruction to see whether or not we’re on the right track.

First of all, learning is NEVER a passive activity! The learner must be actively involved in the learning process if any learning is to take place. Well, we certainly involve our candidates — or do we? Do we realize that the candidate is not a vessel, empty, waiting to be filled but that he is a complex entity that receives, digests, evaluates, sorts, selects and otherwise works over that which has been presented to him in the Degree?

The first step in effective instruction demands that the learner UNDERSTAND the nature of what he is to learn. Without comprehension, full and complete on the part of the learner, there can be no learning. Secondly, the learner must be PERSONALLY INVOLVED with what he is doing. The great educational philosopher, John Dewey, called it “learning by doing” and here again you could say we involve our candidates — by having them “prove up”. finally, learning requires APPLICATION. The learner must make use of that which he has learned if any permanence is to be obtained. If the learner fails to make use of his new competence, it will soon be lost! How do we apply what we learn in Masonry: either by taking part in the Degrees or by sitting on the side, mumbling along with the new candidate as he proves up (often forgetting ourselves and prompting from the side when we think he needs help).

Yes, we make use of the fundamentals of instruction all right — if the object is to learn the ritual! But how do we learn the duties, rights and privileges of membership, from the Constitution? How do we learn to move the payment of accounts? How do we learn that parliamentary law does NOT govern or apply to a Masonic Lodge?

Remember the first time you visited another Lodge when no one else from your Lodge was present? Did you swallow that lump in your throat, stand up and bring fraternal greetings? Did you? Chances are, you did. Maybe you felt a bit uncomfortable about it, but you struggled to your feet anyway. but chances are equally good that no one told you how to do it — you learned by EXAMPLE, for that’s the way it is in Freemasonry! The lessons are exemplified and if you catch on, you become an active and interested Mason. And how do we teach the lessons of leadership? The same way! If you follow the example of a good Masonic leader, AND if you’re given the opportunity to practice what you’ve learned, you’re supposed to become a good leader yourself!

Learning Masonic leadership and learning the teaching of Masonry are two very different animals! Learning leadership within a Lodge is mostly a matter of luck, but in the lessons of our Degrees nothing is left to chance! No part of the allegory, no symbol is a product of the Degree Team. Every word that the candidate hears, every symbol that he sees is prescribed by our Grand Leaders. The lessons are set down in our rituals to ensure that every candidate builds his Masonic career on a well-designed foundation.

What about the lessons of leadership? I’m not talking about the rules set down in our Constitution and By-Laws that govern Lodge proceedings, what I’m concerned with — what we’re all concerned with — is the development within the Lodge of the skills and qualities of leadership. There is no prescribed ritual in Freemasonry that sets down the lessons of leadership. If we ARE to learn by example only, how do we ensure that our budding leaders are following good examples? What safeguards do we have against the examples of lax leadership and poor leadership which, if followed, contribute to the inertia of our Order? We have ONE safeguard: “A Brother shall not be eligible for the office of Master of a Lodge unless he shall have served for twelve months as a Warden... except by dispensation of the Grand Master.” The IS a second safeguard, in theory: “All preferment among Masons shall be grounded on real worth and personal merit only. therefore a Brother shall not be elected or appointed to any office merely on account of seniority or rank.” Masons HAVE been known to be denied office on that count (or at least passed over), but such an occurrence is admitting to an error in judgement, usually on the part of the Past Masters, and after all — we’re only human. But wait a minute, what about the Examining Board for the Master-elect? Ah, that’s a safeguard for the Ritual and the Constitution. It proves only that the Master-elect can read and that he’s adept at rote memory work.

Let’s get back to leadership and the development of the qualities necessary for leadership. first, what are some of the personal qualities of leaders and what are we doing now to develop them?

Well, a leader ought to have faith in the purpose of his organization. “You can do very little with faith, but you can do nothing without it,” said Samuel Butler. Unless a man believes in the purpose of the organization he joins, he’s wasting his time. If follows then, that a Mason should be made fully aware of the history of Freemasonry and its purpose, even before he petitions of initiation. It’s no use trying to teach a potential leader HOW to accomplish a thing without teaching him WHAT the thing is that he’s supposed to accomplish! That IS our purpose, the REAL purpose of Freemasonry? To make good men better? By what means? We pray that each candidate may devote his life to the service of the Great Architect of the Universe. Is this the primary object of Freemasonry — another life dedicated to God’s service? Is our purpose fraternal? Is it self-preservation? Whatever it is, do we make it abundantly clear to our potential leaders and are we satisfied that they understand and have faith in it? In most cases we do and we are, but sometimes we do not and the Craft suffers until the leader is replaced.

Let’s go on. “Decisions of character will often give to an inferior mind, command over a superior,” said one writer on the subject. Making decisions is one of the most important tasks of leadership. This is where the precedent of a good example is strong in Masonic leadership. Fair and just decisions, based on fact, made without evasion and with finality will inspire confidence both in the decision itself and in the man making it. fortunately, few people will look up to one in authority who hums and haws and cannot make up his mind.

Another quality of leadership is the ability to organize. A Master is a poor organizer if he feels that he must do all of the Lodge’s work, and I’m not referring to the Ritual. The Master’s job is to analyze the requirements of his particular Lodge, then organize a program of group activities to satisfy those needs, select the people and the means to get things done and provide the necessary motivation, supervision and guidance. What are we doing about this? You’ve been given some excellent suggestions and guides for planning programs for your Lodge at the school of instruction. Take them back to your Lodge, to your Masters who are coming up through the chairs. Let them have a chance to work with an example of meeting organization and to plan ahead for their year in the Chair!

You know, the Chinese have a proverb that “only a man with a pleasant face should open a shop.” Similarly, only a person who can cultivate an interest in people should aspire to leadership in any group. How does Masonry help here? In a word — visiting! Visiting other Lodges means meeting new people, making new friends and broadening your circle of Masonic acquaintances. With a point of common interest to stimulate conversation, well, everyone here knows only too well how engrossing these discussions can become and how far afield they may range. A good conversation is one of the best ways I know of cultivating an interest in people.

It was Emerson who said: “Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” He might have omitted the word “great” as far as Masonry is concerned! On the other hand, I believe that almost ANYTHING can be achieved by sufficient enthusiasm! Where would this Workshop be without the enthusiasm of the planning committee that organized it? Nowhere, that’s where! Not without you! but you caught the enthusiasm of that committee, and of all the preceding committees. Enthusiasm is contagious! The atmosphere of a meeting is dead until someone says something worthwhile, with a little energy. Then, one by one, the other members join in and add their two-bits worth. The original idea may be discarded as new ideas are brought forth but someone must have the initiative and the enthusiasm to begin!

You can see that we ARE doing some things to help develop leadership qualities in our members but you must admit that it’s mostly on a hit or miss basis and pretty erratic. Some Lodges in Alberta DO have some plans and make some attempt to provide guidance and experience opportunities for their members, but if we are to regain our lost leadership potential, we must develop an organized system for our Jurisdiction!

Many forward-thinking Grand Lodges have excellent systems designed to provide guidance for those desiring to learn and practice leadership. Lodge members may become what is known as a Masonic Monitor. These Masons are certified by a “Board of Custodians” as having sufficient knowledge of the work and lectures to qualify to assist in coaching candidates for the Degrees, coaching Lodge officers and assisting to conduct schools of instruction for their brethren. There are three grades: those of the first grade are proficient in all three Degree; those of the second grade in any two Degree; and those of the third grade, proficient in any one Degree.

Many of these Grand Jurisdictions also publish books containing explanations of various Masonic subjects such as why Symbolic Masonry places so much emphasis on the number three, why we address the Master of a Lodge as “Worshipful”, what is a demit, why we say “So Mote It Be”, and hundreds of others. Of course, much of this may be found in Masonic libraries but very few of our members, particularly the newer members, will take the time to wade through thousands of dusty volumes to find out why the winding staircase of the Fellowcraft Degree or why we call it the “Blue Lodge”.

Most of the Grand Lodges using these tools incorporate them into an overall system of Masonic Instruction and Development to serve two purposes: to ensure that every Candidate and Officer UNDERSTANDS the fundamentals of the Craft, its purposes, ideals, operation and his own responsibilities, duties and privileges; and to give EVERY Mason an opportunity to become PERSONALLY INVOLVED in the functioning of the Order and to APPLY what he has learned in a practical way. We could benefit by applying such a system here in Alberta!

Our Mentor Plan is a beginning, but it needs to be greatly expanded, publicized and applied universally throughout the Jurisdiction. It needs a plan of action, a guide for effective implementation. It needs to go far beyond interpreting the Ritual! Can this be done? WILL this be done here? Undoubtedly it will. This afternoon Myron told you that at least one proposed plan has already been drawn up, but I know and you know that it will take time to put such a plan into effect.

What can we do RIGHT NOW to start the ball rolling? how can we capture the enthusiasm of our new members and put it to work for us? It’s easy — BEGIN! Take the initiative! Exhibit one of the characteristics of a leader and get the members that are here from your Lodge together tonight! Decide to meet informally when you get home! Set a date and a time! Ask each Mason what he wishes he had been told as a candidate or as a new officer, that he had to find out the hard way! Write it down! Read each of the Mentor Plan booklets aloud. If you don’t have them, ask your Lodge Secretary to get you a copy. Discuss the booklets and write down your ideas for expanding them! Write down your ideas for instructing the junior officers of the Lodge! Tie it all together with a system for involving all members, new and old! Approach your Worshipful Master with an offer to put on an informal school of instruction. Try your ideas, modify them, contact your District Research and Education Representative for more information and assistance! find out what other Grand Lodges are doing!

Don’t let this be another of those “general” responsibilities of the “group” or of Grand Lodge! YOU can help us to regain the leaders that we’re losing and have fun doing it, if you take the initiative and make that first energetic effort to begin. Participate!