​I used to believe that the worst thing that could happen to an Odd Fellows Lodge is lack of leadership. But I am now convinced that lack of leadership is actually the second-to-the-worst thing that can happen to a Lodge. Even worse than the challenge of no leadership is the scourge of bad leadership.

Hopefully, very few of you have personally experienced bad leadership in your Lodge experience. I know that it exists because, from time to time, I hear from Brothers and Sisters from other Lodges who are living (should I say, suffering) through it. Historically, it was almost inevitable. There was a time when Odd Fellowship boasted over one million members, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) was the largest fraternal Order in North America. That did not last. And as society evolved and the generations changed, fraternal life became less and less popular. Our numbers (and the numbers in other fraternities) dropped precipitously. When IOOF membership was in the hundreds of thousands, the membership of individual Odd Fellows Lodges numbered in the hundreds. The best and the brightest in the community joined and became Odd Fellows. Lodges were composed of lawyers, doctors, accountants, heads of corporations, military officers, bankers, architects, ranchers, shop owners, mayors, senators, governors, even Presidents. Leaders of Lodges were highly competent decision-makers. These were people who had achieved great success in their personal lives and in their businesses/professions. They were accustomed to leadership and management. Becoming a Noble Grand was an important achievement in their lives, but it was not the highest station that they had ever achieved.

Over time, as IOOF membership declined and as Lodge membership fell from the hundreds to only one or two dozen, an interesting phenomenon occurred. I call it the diminution of the “gene pool”. Instead of the corporate or civic giants of the past, membership in Lodges took a turn toward the rank and file. Folks were being elected as Noble Grand who had never run a meeting or chaired an organization in the past. Folks gained the Noble Grand title without the experience or wisdom or leadership qualities that had distinguished the office in the past. A member could find himself elected Noble Grand and suddenly that member had achieved the highest station they had ever achieved in their lives.

So, we found Odd Fellows Lodge leaders who had never chaired a meeting in the past. They had never developed a budget; and in fact, hardly understood balance sheets or profit and loss statements. Leaders did not know how to solicit input, or build momentum, or move an idea from Point A to Point B to Point C. They did not know how to appoint committees or work groups, to give them charges, and to follow up. They didn’t know how to praise and reward success, or to constructively criticize when necessary. Most significantly, they did not know how to work in a group to build consensus. Afraid or unable to do so, they would often become little dictators, surrounding themselves with their own acolytes, and pushing only their own schemes and ideas forward. They sometimes even gave themselves special privileges in the Lodge, paid themselves salaries or stipends, and created cliques of those who were “in” at the expense of others who were “out.”

And what do you think happened to the Lodges of these Nouveau Leaders?

F – L – T

Dave Rosenberg
Past Grand Master
Jurisdiction of California
Independent Order of Odd Fellows

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