The following was presented March 16, 2021, by Education Officer Joe West.
The Level & The Square
- forthrighter, forthright.space
This blog has always been interested in organizations — large structures of people. Today, let’s look at how decisions in big organizations get made.
We start with two examples on the extreme ends of the spectrum: the King, and the United Nations. I’d like to use this spectrum of decision making as a lens, to look at the idea of wisdom, and how Masonic leaders make decisions in 2021.
This is the typical model of leadership and decision making; one big guy who calls the shots. Kings have unquestionable authority, and they are the single, final arbiter of any decision. The King may choose to take advice or input from any quarter, but when the King says jump, everybody says how high. In the King model, what’s important is your:
- Ability to influence only the King
- the King’s security and continued unquestioned authority
Kings might care what other people think about them, but they are not required to. That is the nature of unchecked power. Everyone in the organization has three choices: convince the king, live with whatever the king decides, or replace the king. Most people, most of the time, live with whatever he decides.
Kings can move quickly and boldly: an advantage in times of need, but a large disadvantage if you have an unwise king.
The United Nations
The UN is a collaborative body; nations come together and talk it out. There is no King of the UN, even secretary positions of committees rotate. Nations have little or no way to compel one another to behave in certain ways. It is a diplomat’s paradise: all about relationships, political levers, and influence, and there’s very little power in this body and dialogue is a form of indirect power; convincing others to move in the desired direction.
In the United Nations, the most important factors that will dictate if you can get things done are your:
- political capital
- intentions as perceived by others
- allies and process
The United Nations cannot move quickly or boldly. This is an advantage when the room is full of hot heads, and it is a disadvantage in crisis.
These two endpoints form a spectrum like what we see here, depending on the relative presence of power, and importance of consensus and harmony. Consensus and Harmony is the opposite end of power. Power is the thing that can create organizational motion and movement. When it is missing, the only other social force that can create motion is consensus.
Because we can see that these ends of the spectrum require different skill sets and abilities, one might think of them like “different tools in the toolbox” for working with people. Adopting a kingly command-like attitude at the United Nations will work about as well as pounding nails with a screwdriver. And a UN bureaucrat in a king’s court would probably do about as well.
When you consider how lodges and Masonic jurisdictions operate, it’s clear that Freemasonry is a mix of both.
How strange to find an organization that focuses on harmony, and is still driven by a very clear hierarchical structure, beginning with the Grand Master, down through the Master and Wardens of each lodge.
The “command structure” of Freemasonry is perfectly clear, and yet it mostly is not used as such. Wisdom in Command — this simple observation is one of the reasons why, in my opinion, the pillar in the east is Wisdom, as exemplified by King Solomon. The understanding that power and command has its place, mixed with the wisdom to know that just because you have a hammer does not mean that you should swing it at every problem. Indeed real examples exist of un-Solomonic behavior in this regard. When true direct king-like powers are used by Grand Masters in Freemasonry, typically the result is a lot of division and unhappiness.
“What is strength, without a double share of wisdom? Vast, unwieldy, burdensome; Proudly secure, yet liable to fall by weakest subtleties; not made to rule but to subserve, where wisdom bears command.”
— John Milton
Looking back on the spectrum above — within the fraternity Grand Masters are much more like Kings than the United Nations. And yet all wise Grand Masters and Lodge Masters know that a lodge is a volunteer group, which places it on the far left of the consensus / power spectrum.
And in this regard, perhaps wisdom is not knowing about the tool (such as power or consensus), it isn’t even mastering the use of the tool. But rather knowing which situation calls for each.