Did Leadership Academy 2017 Make the Grade?

The November 2017 Leadership Academy in Topeka boasted the largest turnout in its seven-year history.  Attendee feedback would lead you to believe that Masonic gold had been mined in Kansas.  Short of a death in the family, most would not miss these events; they are just that good.  Having had time to stand back and take a more objective look, I thought it was time to determine if the salve of the Academy was soothing the right itch.

The demographics of Leadership Academy show that we are attracting a greater audience of leaders and potential leaders at the Grand Lodge level.  Nearly all Area and District Deputy Grand Masters, as well as a huge contingent of line Grand Lodge officers were present.  So, too, were the leadership of the successful lodges and those lodges with bright hopes for a long, prosperous future.  Those visibly absent were representatives from the struggling lodges, the smaller lodges, troubled lodges, and the lodges that find themselves on the so called “death map”.  In other words, the Wardens about to assume the East and in the most need of this information were the least present.  Puzzling is the reason that the very officers who need this information the most are the least likely to attend.  Maybe a look at the genesis of Leadership Academy is in order.

For years, Grand Lodge operated a Wardens School with the intention of arming near-term Worshipful Masters with all the basic information needed to assume the Master’s duties.  Presumably, this would give the elect enough time to understand their duties and make plans for their year.  However, leadership of a lodge is the paramount attribute that determines success of a lodge.  The demands of a lodge Master and the officers of the progressive line are numerous and extremely weighty.  Event planning, annual budgeting, volunteer management, paid personnel management, facility management, meeting facilitation, and new member programs are just the start of required knowledge.  The leaders must also be proficient in degree work, keepers of the landmarks, officers in all committees, lodge spokes persons, fundraisers, and dispensers of charity.  Additionally, they are members of the Grand Lodge and liaisons to outside organizations, subject matter experts in their lodge bylaws and those of higher authority, keepers of the charter, and must stay well appraised of legal, social, moral, and civil matters affecting the lodge.  The lynchpin is a plan to guide the Master elect through it all.

While the Wardens School was well organized and refined over the years to “put some meat on the bones”, it garnered a reputation for being dry, and, as it has been said many times, was like “drinking from a fire hose”.  Attendance dropped and Wardens School became uneconomical to sustain.  A common conclusion from Wardens School was that getting all this information as a Warden was too late.  Real learning and shaping oneself for the successful term as Master had to be done over a course of many years.  A new approach to longer term lodge leadership ramp-up in a more adult-style, academic environment was needed.  Leadership Academy was born.

The historical treatise of the genesis of Leadership Academy was necessary to state that, unlike Wardens School, a single event cannot be judged independently.  The learning, interaction, discussion, sharing, and participation has to be looked at over time to see if, like getting regular nutrition over a course of meals, builds the patron into a healthy specimen of good leadership.  Evaluation of Leadership Academy 2017, therefore, has to be done in context of the whole series of academies.  In that case, the 2017 event wildly succeeds.  Forty-five minute sessions throughout the day covered a wide array of contemporary topics such as leadership, entrepreneurship, charity, insurance, Grand Lodge initiatives, and the Masonic experience.  Yet, there was still plenty of basic ‘block and tackle’ topics such as duties of the Secretary and Treasurer, conduct of audits, perpetual life membership, and the Lodge Officers Manual.  Valuable content, not on the syllabus, is the sharing of best practices and innovative ideas over lunch, Table Lodge, and breaks.  Anyone attending the last three years of academies would have been asleep the entire time if they did not come away each time with at least three golden nuggets; three great ideas that, if implemented at their lodge, would greatly increase the value of the Masonic experience for their brothers.

While Leadership Academy attendance growth is one marker of success, missing criteria are those markers that show how well an attendee destined for the East is prepared to make the ascent to the third step.  A demographic study along with a more focused evaluation will be required but necessary to ensure that the long-term intent of the academy is met.  Information needed would include whether the attendee has ever served in the East before, from what lodge position in their progressive line did they start attending the academy, did they come away with at least three golden nuggets each time, and, the ultimate test of success, how prepared did they feel they were just prior to assuming the Master’s role.  The same survey needs to be sent to the Master at 6 months during their tenure and again within 30 days after they transitioned out of the Master’s chair.  The main purpose on the latter survey should be to ascertain a list of subjects in which the immediate Past Master felt most deficient and, from Leadership Academy attendance, most prepared.

Short of a prolonged and probably costly 3rd party evaluation, a well-crafted and managed survey with demographic data such as age, years a Mason, professional background, topics taken at Leadership Academy and years attended/lodge position at the time would help future academy planners visualize the most needed subjects by lodge position and person attending.  With empirical data that hopefully shows continued achievement by its attendees, the academy can be better marketed to the officers in those lodges that need the education the most.  It would set the standards by which academy success is measured over time.

In a society of friends and more especially brothers whose primary pursuit is further light, it is disheartening that so many of our brothers in lodge officer positions fail to attend Leadership Academy.  There, light is diligently prepared, caringly shared, brotherly love not spared, to lighten burdens bared by leadership dared.  Leadership Academy 2017 made the grade and from this vantage point scores an A-.  Quantifying its contribution and better marketing to the lodges that need what Leadership Academy offers are the next steps toward ‘Best in Class’.

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