Funeral Service is simultaneously over managed and under led.

The key to overcoming the “Being Necessary” complex is to recognize the difference between management and leadership. It is the overmanagement that creates all the physical and emotional stress in this profession. More to the point the current trends in misapplying management data is turning professionals into shop foremen.

Let’s be clear: contrary to popular opinion leadership is not about the “embattled lone hero”.  Nor is it about some charismatic, mystical vision. Leadership is a set of skills that enable an individual or a SMALL group of individuals to set a direction and thereby align and inspire their people to accomplish a vision. But we get ahead of ourselves.

Management and leadership are complementary skill sets.  In large companies these responsibilities can be borne by different people and different job titles. In small businesses like ours owners and managers must wear both hats. The key is to know which is which and when to be a manager / leader and when to be a leader / manager.

Managing is about coping with daily operational needs. Without it organizations would become chaotic. It brings order and consistency while producing quality and profitability.

Leading is about coping with the future. It is about change brought about by such things as demographic changes, financial changes, market changes and customer changes.  In simpler times leadership could take a back seat to managing because our business environment was stable. It changed maybe once in a generation. Today our environment is in a constant state of change. In DeathCare this coping with change responsibility often is left to default. As a result, firms begin to decline and lose direction and relevancy. Leadership is all about setting a direction. Its most valid implicit operating assumption is that doing what was done yesterday better is no longer a guarantee of success.

Our current operating environment is not stable. It is dynamic and changing. So, where it used to be appropriate for our manager’s hat to be bigger, today requires a level of leadership clarity and direction that was not necessary in former years. Becoming unnecessary requires a vision and a direction that then suggests a variety of actions. A plan, so to speak.

Managing achieves its plans by organizing and staffing and creating an organizational structure. Leadership achieves its plans by aligning people. Without alignment around a shared vision well-meaning people simply trip over each other…a phenomena I have observed often in even the best firms. To achieve alignment requires strong communication skills as well as clarity of purpose and direction. Leadership in the context of today’s workers cannot be achieved alone.

Management’s primary tools are controlling and problem solving. Managers direct activities and monitor results and identify deviations. They rely on reports, meetings and mechanisms of reward and punishment.

Leadership tools for achieving a vision are entirely reliant on motivating and inspiring people to move in the right direction. They do this by connecting often untapped human needs, values and emotions. In times of significant change those with strengths in management will often misapply or overuse their management tools in a misdirected effort to control change. This is too often counterproductive, producing in the short term at the sacrifice of the future.

Peter Drucker once observed: “you cannot manage change, you can only be ahead of it.” Which is precisely the role of the leader.

Scripture says: “Without a vision the people perish”. Setting a direction is fundamental to leadership. Sometimes the future is so unclear that the only direction to be set is “We can’t stay the way we are.” A leader will begin at this stage and rather than relying on the deductive reasoning of a manager will begin to look more broadly and inductively identify gaps and then seek solutions. For instance: A leader will ask why more people are selecting cremation (a gap).  He will challenge his / her own paradigms and more closely examine those sacred cows. Eventually a leader will choose a direction and begin to move in that direction. He will include more of his people in the process both to test his / her own assumptions and to begin to inspire and motivate them.


I see two options emerging. Both will require leadership.

Both options require a realistic assessment of the owner’s capabilities and desires. I always start these conversations with new clients with the question: “What is your vision for yourself.” As small independent businesses the owner’s vision for him or herself is the vision. But it often takes people off guard. Once, however, they can answer the question the conversation quickly accelerates. It is here that we can make a choice between Option A or Option B.

Option A is a decision to take yourself and your family into what I call “Safe Harbor.”  Safe harbor involves the current leader deciding to withdraw. Although it can involve selling the business it doesn’t have to. It can also involve succession to a new leader.  For parents it can mean it is time to let son or daughter take over. Or perhaps a key employee is more suited for the task.

Option B involves stepping up to the plate as a leader.  With my clients this involves a discussion about what it will take in all its goriness. This is especially true in a turnaround situation.

At the risk of repeating myself, either option requires setting a direction and, for a period at least, being more a leader than a manager.