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George Washington 1776 Lodge #337, F. & A.M., Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin

The Gavel of Leadership

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"The Surveyor" Trestleboard
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Andy Paradowski, PM
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The Gavel of Leadership
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Our Lodge should select the Common Gavel, a key working tool of our craft, as our emblem of leadership.  

Let us explore the symbolic meanings of a gavel to learn more about the nature of Masonic leadership.  As we proceed, we will find out why Masonic organizations are enthusiastically emphasizing leadership training and  understand why Lodges annually rotate leadership roles. 

As we learn how to become better leaders in our Lodges, we will also become better men in Masonry. Our objective tonight is to learn about leadership through exploring the various symbolism of the gavel as our badge leadership.

We learn in the EA degree that a Common Gavel is an instrument which was made use of by operative Masons to break off the corners of rough stones, the better to fit them for the builder’s use.  And as such, a gavel represents a stone-working mallet or maul. 


But shortly thereafter we learn that a gavel symbolizes higher purposes.  We use the gavel for a more noble and glorious purpose to divest from our minds, hearts, and conscience of all vice, trappings, and superfluities of life, thereby fitting us as living stones, for that spiritual building – that house not made with hands – eternal in the heavens. 


In other words, the gavel is used to chip away at those things that plague and infest our minds, to divest ourselves of whatever we feel are shameful or reprehensible.  It hews away at the imperfections of the rough ashlar in us to form the perfect ashlar that we strive to become.


The gavel is placed in the hands of the Master to help remind him to give proper instruction, to lead the Craft where they should go, and to set them on the path to contemplate higher things.  Each meeting is opened and closed at the sound of the gavel.  Aside from the square and compasses, the gavel is the most prominent working tool in any lodge, and certainly the noisiest.


Yet a Common Gavel has imbedded in it several other rich meanings than those that we learn about in the EA degree. 


The Common Gavel appears in the hands of many different types of people.  It is placed in the hands of Judges, who rule on points of law.  It is placed in the hands of lead legislators and heads of city boards, to announce when order should be restored.  The gavel is a sign of authority that the person wielding it may make pronouncements.  It is placed in the leader’s hands, whether it is the mayor, the president of a school board, or the Speaker of the House.


When chief executives of organizations retire, a cherished retirement gift is a gavel engraved with their name and dates of their service.  The gavel is a symbol of that person’s leadership over the organization they served. 


When a Grand Master enters a lodge, the Worshipful Master relinquishes the gavel into his hands.  The passing of the gavel demonstrates a transfer of leadership from one person to another.


These are all examples of ways in which the gavel symbolizes authority and leadership. 


But we often find that there are limited opportunities to demonstrate leadership in our in our families or at work, and fewer chances still to venture into leadership roles. 


So, where can we learn to be leaders? 


There are occasionally leadership training opportunities at work, but the Lodge offers us a friendly classroom of brothers who are eager for each of us to succeed.  We urge our brothers to tackle tasks that they feel are difficult.  As they succeed, the sense of accomplishment spurs us on to greater opportunities to practice leadership.

There is a poignant question that applies to many topics, including leadership.  The question is:  How do you get to Carnegie Hall?  The answer is:  Practice, practice, practice! 

Leadership in Lodge takes practice.  Practice makes perfect.   Practice makes permanent.  What we practice, we tend to display in all we do.  Our lodge gives us a safe and responsive environment to practice leadership.  So, the key for us to learn to be success leaders is practice, practice, practice.

Successful leaders have goals.  They must have a general plan.  They must know their objectives and systematically attempt to achieve their plans.  Perhaps our Past Grand Master Benjamin Franklin said it best on the nature of planning, "Failing to plan is planning to fail."  A leader has a plan.

So, to be a leader we must practice the organizational skills of planning, keeping a calendar, and making appointed meetings and obligations. By being organized, we are better enabled to show leadership in our families, our businesses, and our Lodges.  Planning and organizational skills are needed in Masonic as well as all organizations.

Since the gavel symbolizes authority and leadership within and without Freemasonry, what is particularly true of Masonic leadership? 


Masonry teaches its lessons by degrees, including its lessons on leadership. We request entry into a Lodge.  We are at first led around, in ways reminiscent of being a child.  As we grow in knowledge and light, we are asked to perform duties as appointed officers and then elected officers in our Lodge.  We grow in leadership.  Many progress through the chairs to become chief officers of the Lodge.


The honor and reputation of our Lodges depend on the skill with which the leadership of the Lodge manages its concerns.  The general happiness of its members grows in direct proportion to the zeal and ability with which its leaders demonstrate the principles of our Fraternity.

The Master is charged to lead his Lodge.  He sets goals, lays out plans on the trestleboard, sets the Craft to work, and superintends them in their labors.  But a leader cannot do every task.  He uses the talents of his members for the benefit of Freemasonry. He assigns tasks that must be done to the best men available.  His leadership, along with others with talent and vision, achieves our important duty to spread and communicate light and instruction to the brethren of his Lodge.

We live in a day when fewer men have social activities outside of work.  Membership in bowling leagues, union halls, American Legion Posts, men’s groups in Church, and various fraternities are far less common today than they were fifty years ago.  Opportunities to grow in leadership vanish, unless they are thrust upon one at work.  Hence, Grand Lodges and appellant bodies are attempting to fill this void by making men better leaders. 

Around the State, the Grand Lodge has been sponsoring Leadership Training.  The Philalethes Society offers a ten-part Masonic Leadership Course.  Brother Allen Roberts has written extensively on Leadership.  A search on Google on Masonic Leadership leads to countless programs and seminars throughout the world on Masonic Leadership.

Our Lodges involve men with many different talents.  We are, in a sense, a band of brothers.  As a band, we might metaphorically play music well or we might sound harsh or discordant.

Imagine for the moment that the gavel is like a director’s baton, directing a band of brothers.  The Master uses his baton to direct some of the floor work within a Lodge.  At three raps, we move in concert to stand and at one rap to sit down again.  It is said that no one can whistle a symphony; rather it takes an orchestra to play it.  Our orchestra is a team of men.  Not just one man can make a Lodge. Good leadership in a Lodge, like a good director, helps the team succeed.  Bad leadership creates discord.

If we were to practice an unfamiliar musical instrument, we tend to make squeaks or play wrong notes.  No one would expect a music student to play everything correctly the first time.  As we practice, mistakes and errors are expected to occur.

Brothers in a Lodge should encourage each other to try wielding the gavel of leadership.  If they error or if forget something here or there, that is normal for any person practicing to be leader. 


While we love to see and hear Proficiency Men leading degrees, the act of being in the arena and facing adversity and omissions and mistakes, is where we grow in our practice of leadership. 


Brothers, we must be realistic and caring to our fellow brothers to encourage a spirit of growth.  We must practice as a team, even when some mistakes occur.  The mistakes are opportunities for learning and improvement and an opportunity to show brotherly love by words of encouragement.


In many businesses, the leader or CEO stays the leader until he retires or leaves for various reasons.  There is little chance to rotate roles, to try other jobs within our firm, and to practice leadership.

By using our method of annually rotating chairs, to the extent that we can in our Lodges, we purposefully give different brothers a chance to lead.  Where else can you one year be a Steward looking after the needs of other brothers and visitors; and the next year you are a Deacon leading candidates around; and the next a Warden or Master guiding your Lodge to greater light?

This doesn’t happen often enough in our commonplace world.  But it does in Lodge.

The keys then for us to grow in leadership come down to three points.

First, we must practice leadership in Lodge.  We must be willing to take on roles that we don’t feel we are naturally gifted at doing. We must be brave and give it a try.  Where else will be get practice at being a leader if not in our Lodge?

Second, we must permit ourselves and others to make mistakes or omissions.  No one learns to ride a bike without taking a few spills.  If we are players in a band, and the director makes a mistake, we can still follow his lead, and give him permission to make errors.

Third, and finally, the gavel of leadership reminds us that we must plan. We must grow in organizational skills that we need in our Lodge, work, and family.  By being organized, resourceful, and filled with zeal for all we do, we can help coordinate and lead our families, our businesses, and our Lodges. 

As we move into the season of elections for new officers, I charge you to be willing to step up, to grow in leadership, and eagerly to accept the Gavel of Leadership when it is placed in your hands.

Dick Marcus, PM at a Joint Table Lodge for Aurora Lodge & George Washington 1776 Lodge