What skills or attributes do you need to grow your funeral home business from $1M to $10M? That’s the focus of my current series of newsletters.

In last week’s newsletter, I said that a Funeral Home Owner needs to develop the character trait of being relentlessly optimistic. This week, I’ll describe a client visit highlighting three additional character traits.

No man can climb out beyond the limitations of his own character.” — John Morley.

I was sitting in my client’s conference room, watching the dynamics in his staff meeting. It was pretty clear they didn’t function as a team, and getting them all on the same page would be challenging.

I had multiple conversations with the client before coming onsite. He said that he was committed to taking his business to the next level and wanted my help to get there. He had a new General Manager in place and just needed an action plan to follow.

The plan for the day was simple. In the morning, I would put on a training class for the funeral home owner, his General Manager, and his top Funeral Directors. Then, in the afternoon, the owner would walk his team through the process of creating an implementation action plan while I answered questions and helped keep them on track.

A complete discussion of the problems I witnessed that day would fill many pages, but here are three samples.

The first sign of a problem appeared during a morning break when I saw a heated conversation between a Funeral Director and the General Manager. I don’t know what they disagreed about, but things were getting pretty tense.

Suddenly the owner stepped in between the two men and blasted out a tirade of obscenities. He yelled them both down, put them “in their place,” and ended the argument.

The Funeral Director and General Manager returned to their seats and didn’t say a word for the rest of the training. Unfortunately, they also didn’t seem to be following the material, and instead, they stewed in their anger.

I noticed the second problem over lunch. They had catered sandwiches for the entire staff, so it was a good chance to meet everyone. So we assembled our plates and headed outside to some picnic tables.

Usually, I would use this as an opportunity to have a private conversation with the owner and GM to ensure the day was meeting their expectations. But when I looked for the owner, he had gone straight to the table where his Funeral Directors were sitting.

I met some of the staff and was able to have a private conversation with the GM. I asked him about their decision-making process, and he said even though he makes the day-to-day decisions, the owner always overrules him if a Funeral Director objects.

That’s a huge red flag!

The third noteworthy incident happened during the afternoon session.

There are bound to be differing opinions when collaborating on an action plan. However, sometimes you need to let the conversation unfold so that everyone’s voice has been heard. 

In this case, the Funeral Directors debated the practical side of offering families a new type of funeral experience. One of the Funeral Directors kept asking questions, and the owner was annoyed. 

Eventually, the owner blurted out, “Bob, that’s enough of your whining. We’re moving forward. End of discussion.”

Sometimes that’s the right thing to say, but in this case, Bob was right. He was raising valid questions that needed answers. But instead, the owner just brushed them under the rug.

By the end of the afternoon, we had created the framework for an action plan for growth. If they were a well-organized team that could execute a plan, I would have been confident they would succeed. Unfortunately, in this case, my confidence level was pretty low.

This week’s story highlights three additional character traits that every Funeral Business Builder must possess if they are going to get from $1M to $10M.

  1. They know how to de-escalate drama.
  2. They long to be trusted and respected more than liked.
  3. They know the right way to engage in conflict.

The owner I described above struggled on all three of these points.

His GM and FD are arguing. Rather than de-escalating the situation, he turned into a bully. Funeral Business Builders are leaders, not bullies!

When faced with a drama-filled situation, a crucial question is: How would a calm and calculated person handle this situation. Over time, a person who stays calm under pressure and de-escalates drama will gain respect and be chosen to lead.

A Funeral Business Builder knows how to de-escalate drama.

When the owner chose to eat lunch with his Funeral Directors, he was doing it so they would continue to like him. He wanted to continue to be their friend, but his actions undermined his General Manager.

As soon as he hired a General Manager, the owner should have made it clear that they were a united leadership team. Your staff doesn’t need friends. They need leaders who they trust and respect.

A Funeral Business Builder longs to be trusted and respected more than liked.

When the owner shut down Bob for asking perfectly valid questions, he was trying to avoid conflict. He was interpreting the tension caused by Bob’s questions as a bad thing. In reality, conflict is often a good thing when trying to grow a business.

All human progress happens by passing through conflict. Without engaging in and navigating conflict, you cannot climb a mountain, build a bridge, create a community, or grow a business. 

If you avoid conflict, you will not achieve success. Instead, you should welcome conflict as a natural part of the growth process. Here are four simple steps for navigating conflict.

  1. Expect conflict so that you’re not surprised when it shows up.
  2. Control your emotions because conflict gets out of hand when it becomes emotional.
  3. Affirm the person you are confronting so they don’t feel personally threatened.
  4. Understand you could be wrong. Remember, conflict is about progress, not proving you are right.

A Funeral Business Builder knows that conflict is necessary for growth and knows the right way to engage in it.

A couple of months later, I called my client to see how he was progressing with the action plan. Unfortunately, his General Manager had been lured away by SCI to manage a competing firm, and his best Funeral Director had also left for a new job. 

His dream of getting to $10M was on hold.

You can not dream yourself into a character; you must hammer and forge yourself one.” — James A. Froude.

Until next time



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *