Positioning For Change By Fostering Inclusion And Debate.

From WBro Damien of Lodge Devotion

Newer members are sometimes surprised to find out Devotion was once a Friday night lodge. That changed happened in a vote of a few minutes several years ago without debate……or did it?

While exploring how to position Devotion for success, several members raised the issue of our Friday Lodge meeting clashing other commitments. Changing our meeting night was suggested as a better path to success.

I was Master at the time and the issue has been raised during the years prior. Informally mentioning an idea is a good to get initial reaction, but you must take the next step with a firm proposal and rationales for it. A possibility is not a proposal. A mention is not a motion. Often an idea only becomes reality when a motion to deliver it is proposed, then if the situation is ambiguous, complex and/or consequences high, you need to see timely delivery of information in forms people can access. Data needs to be transparently and effectively communicated. Then meaningfully and openly examine or debate it in the context of a clear recommendation from the proposer with rationales supporting the proposal addressing why other alternatives are not as good.

A leaders opinion, or that of a small group like a Committee of General Purposes, is not a wide one nor is it truly tested. Don’s articles on Group Think come to mind. Proposals need to be tested amongst the wider membership who need to have time to process information & forums to offer their reaction.

The Master needs to act as adjudicator and it’s sometimes best to present yourself as the advocate of debate rather than of the idea itself. You particularly need to be careful about being seen to push a contentious proposal with bias. You should publically endorse and encourage a debate, not be a party in it. Your role is to ask questions and adjudicate and collect information. The focus needs to be on the issue, not you. It’s okay to express the opinion “This seems like a good idea so we are putting it to the membership for discussion, and if there is wide support for this, we will put it to the vote after we’ve talked about it”. You need your subordinates to be the advocates and you need to ensure arguments against are aired. Make the people who offer those arguments feel they are being heard and their concerns addressed. Often asking for an alternative solution can be a good way to proceed. Sometimes they are better or improve the original proposal.  Information should be presented and alternative solutions publically examined and embraced or discarded with careful and clear rationalizations after debate.

Every opportunity to object and discuss changing our meeting night was given at Devotion  and any objections carefully and patiently overcome. Through work and time, the lodge achieved a unanimous vote.  Harmony preserved, progress achieved. Years on, we know it was a good move, but it started with total support of the lodge without ill feelings.

Some changes can be done quickly others need time. Knowing the difference is key to being a leader who preserves his wide support. Creating forums for discussions and allowing enough time for that to occur is key. That’s not being popularist, it’s acknowledging that political capital is important in being an effective leader.  Good leaders will know it’s not just about getting a majority vote for their idea, it’s about taking as many people as you can on the journey. That’s good for the leader and that is good for the organization.

Masters have more de jure and de facto power than they often release. However each Lodge, including Grand Lodge,  has a Masonic Senate in its body of voting members. Unless you are going to get a very clear majority, say of 75%+ you should think very carefully before allowing a motion that will have long ramifications to be put. Especially if a significant components of those ramifications are feelings of the voters who felt they were not heard. Some Governments and Boards face resulting Revolutions when they make this mistake. Poor attendance and resignations are a good measure of the feelings of your members towards your lodge and leadership team.

I was recently surprised to hear we now only have about 11,000 Freemasons in the State. When I joined ten years ago, it was around 15,000. We are at about 2/3rd of the membership we were, and I hear resignations are more common than deaths in the last 12 months. This is being widely reported Worrying. Grand Lodge should make the situation transparent by publishing 5 years of membership data on deaths, resignations, initiations, and exclusions

At our last Quarterly Communications we had a vote on new Benevolence Structure which passed. I wrote down the votes. I believe they were 304 for, 269 against. (53% for, 47% against of those voting that night). Those voting, represented less than 5% of our total membership. That’s not Grand Lodges fault – it relies on members being able and being willing to attend. However, 5% participate is an incredibly low and concerning number. If 50% of our members are voting members of GL, the vote was then 10% of the membership. However, a 2% majority (53%) makes support for the change questionable. It’s unfortunate, many voting “no” supported the concept but were unhappy critical details were still under development.  The critical Trust Deed itself was still in draft.

To influence your lodge, you must participate in debate and be there to vote, or a mechanism to allow non-attending members to be hear be struck. Our current Constitution generally does not allow that, but remedying that requires a separate debate and article. The problem is solved by members attendance.  However it is worth noting that with a membership of about 11,000, only 35 people carried the vote. It’s not a good position for a leadership team to be in.

Having a slim majority does not give you a true or enduring mandate and you need to act on such things with caution. Of course, having put the vote, you’re also boxed into a corner. Unless you can present a reason which shows disastrous ramifications, you are bound to proceed. Messy. Very Messy. Even after the vote, it is critical you continue to work on those that voted “no”..

On the night of initiation, a new Freemasons is told in the final charge many things, but one is that he should have “a ready acquiesce to all votes and resolutions duly passed by a majority of brethren in open lodge”. Lodges are democracies. Most votes simply require a majority of members present. However a 51% majority does not give a mandate, as some recent Australian Federal Governments has discovered. If you put or allow a motion, ensure it is widely supported lest you introduce disharmony into your lodge.

Spend time to get more than just the one vote majority you need.

Work hard to take everyone with you.