Joseph Montfort Council No. 108 Allied Masonic Degrees of the United States of America
Making Leaders of Character

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Making Leaders of Character

by Brother Dave Milidonis

Raleigh York Rite Masons

"A leader of character has all of the qualities we normally associate with leaders; ambition, confidence, courage, intelligence, eloquence, responsibility, creativity, compassion; and one thing more which we unfortunately overlook too frequently among civilian leaders: A leader of character is absolutely trustworthy, even in times of great stress, and can be depended upon to put the needs of others—the organization, the community– above personal considerations-not now and then, or when the spirit moves him, or when it will look good on his resume’-but in every instance."(Donnithorne, Larry R., Col. (ret.), The West Point Way of Leadership, Doubleday, copyright 1993, pp.3-4).

I love that paragraph, especially, "A leader of character is absolutely trustworthy, even in times of great stress, and can be depended upon to put the needs of others—the organization, the community– above personal considerations-not now and then, or when the spirit moves him, or when it will look good on his resume’-but in every instance." Col. Donnithorne has "hit the nail right on the head." His book describing the processes of leadership development utilized by the only Leadership School in the nation, West Point, is a "must read" for anyone wishing to understand what leadership is all about. My interest is not only personal (I am a ‘74 graduate), but, Masonic as well. In my professional life, I develop leaders for organizations and I have found that there are only two institutions in the world who can lay claim to the title "Leader Maker." One is West Point and the other is our Fraternity. In my studies, I have also concluded that both these institutions utilize virtually the exact same process for achieving that goal. West Point has coined the formula as the "Be, Know, Do" formula of leadership. Masons have coined the formula as their three-degree process, Entered Apprentice, Fellow Craft and Master. Both do the same thing. As a Plebe at West Point, you learn to be a follower, a good follower. To begin to understand leadership, it is absolutely necessary to understand "followership." You also learn that one of the first steps toward leadership is learning to lead yourself. To accomplish that you must learn about who you are, your attitudes, the behaviors that come from those attitudes and the values that drive your attitudes, both personal and organizational. If that does not sound familiar to you, try this. Before the candidate even steps through the preparation door he is taught to follow. How? Simple, they cannot move unless they are arm in arm with their conductor, their first encounter with a Masonic leader. In the course of their degree and the coaching and mentoring work performed afterwards, they learn all they can about the tenets and virtues. They cannot pass on until those lessons they have been taught have evolved and been inculcated in their very character. Neither will a Plebe pass on to his or her succeeding years without having shown the same character. Learning to "Be" who you should be encompasses the first part of the formula.

Knowledge about all subjects is of paramount importance to the West Point cadet. In fact, the "required course" load that a cadet must take will shock most college students and graduates. Four years of Math, Physical Sciences, Engineering; two years of English, History, Physical Education, a Foreign Language and Behavioral Sciences, then the cadet is allowed to choose an elective. The standard minimum full-time load in our state colleges is 12-15 credits hours per semester. A West Point cadet carries a minimum requirement of 20-24 credit hours and must attend every class, Monday through Saturday (no skipping). If those courses do not sound familiar, look again at our Fellow Craft degree. Match the cadet’s classes with "Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astronomy. To "know" as much as you can about all you can know becomes a cadet’s steady academic diet, as well as a Fellow Craft’s.

Throughout his or her four years, the cadet is constantly placed in scenarios where you are required to "Do" what you have learned. Failure is allowed because failure is a great teacher. Choosing the harder right over the easier wrong and doing it becomes the standard practice of the cadet and it is drilled in every day of his or her life at the Academy. Sound familiar? Again, it should. Three fellow crafts failed. Twelve chose the harder right. To "Do" is to be a Master of the Craft. The identical paths and processes chosen by these two institutions of leadership did not happen randomly. It was designed that way. West Point’s history has deep Masonic roots. Before it became an Academy of Leadership, it was recognized as a strategic landmark. Benedict Arnold saved hundreds of lives by its preservation and its importance to the British cause made it the bargaining chip in his treasonous act. Lest we forget, Arnold was a Mason and his lesson is just as important to us today as it was then. Leaders of character do not do it for personal considerations, "not now and then, or when the spirit moves him, or when it will look good on his resume’-but in every instance." Arnold’s lesson is one to remember every time we appoint or elect an officer within our bodies. Can they choose the harder right over the easier wrong? Slyvanus Thayer is known as the "Father of the Academy." A War of 1812 American officer (Colonel), as Superintendent of the Academy in the early 1800’s, he introduced the academic regimen that still exists today, the discipline that the Academy is perhaps better known for, and the first "Honor Code" that still survives today. "A cadet does not lie, cheat or steal, or tolerate those that do." Sound familiar? If not, read our Masonic Code. Thayer was a Mason from Massachusetts. Finally, the man and Mason who decided that there should be an Academy, the one who picked West Point and the one who convinced an extremely reluctant U.S. Congress of just such a need for our nation, was none other than George Washington. We all know his Masonic career. It is no small wonder why these two institutions have such similar goals and processes. The men who founded West Point sprouted that tree from a branch they had learned to love and nurture. In our own Masonic circles, when we discuss where the leadership has gone, or why we perceive a lack of sound leadership, or a void of those willing to take on the role, perhaps we need to revisit where it all began and return to the basics that have made the Academy the school it is today. The same basics we learn in our three degrees. Perhaps we can concentrate just that much more in our meetings on developing Leaders of Character.

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