Funeral Home Marketing: Lead. Follow. Or, get out of the way.

The audience cheered when he was introduced and listened intently to every word he spoke.

I was in the audience as Lee Iacocca, Chairman of Chrysler Corporation, was giving a speech to a large group of Chrysler employees. A huge banner hung over his head with letters large enough to be seen from the back row. It said, “Lead. Follow. Or, get out of the way.”

I had just taken a job at Chrysler, and this was my first time hearing a Lee Iacocca speech. As I later learned, Lee (as he preferred to be addressed) would pick a theme for each year and make presentations all over the company delivering his message.

“Lead. Follow. Or, get out of the way” was the theme for this year.

The quote is attributed to Thomas Paine and was later used by General George Patton during WWII. In addition, various business leaders have used it over the years, and Lee adopted it as his new theme.

The essence of Lee’s message was simple. The key to growing Chrysler was for every individual to know when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way. 

He didn’t see this as a mandate for the executive team but a key principle that all employees should consider daily. Each time he delivered a speech, he would fill it with examples of how his audience could live out this principle.

Lee used stories from his own life to illustrate the concept. He talked about how when he joined Chrysler in 1979, the company was on the verge of bankruptcy and how he felt compelled to lead us through the crisis. 

Next, he talked about the change in what consumers wanted in cars and how we either followed these changes or we would be out of business. Then he spoke about how he liked to hire people smarter than him and then get out of their way.

He used the analogy of a manual transmission and how you can go faster when you change gears smoothly versus someone stuck in first gear.

Sometimes you should lead, sometimes you should follow, and sometimes you should get out of the way. The key is to know when to change gears.

In hindsight, what Lee was doing with these speeches was forming the Chrysler culture. He wanted an agile, flexible culture focused on making Chrysler a world-class car company. He knew that the executives couldn’t do it on their own, but an entire company of 200,000+ employees focused on the same goal could succeed.

“Lead. Follow. Or, get out of the way.”

I believe that for a funeral home owner to become a Funeral Business Builder, they must master the skill of knowing when to lead, when to follow, and when to get out of the way. They need to be able to change gears smoothly if they are going to take their business to the next level.


Most funeral home owners have spent many years as Funeral Directors, caring for families in their time of need. But as I’ve said many times in my writings, the skills that make you are great Funeral Director are not the skills that make you a great owner.

As your business grows, the size of your staff will grow too. Your team doesn’t need you to be a great Funeral Director. They need you to be a great business leader. They need you to set the direction, define the roles, celebrate the victories, hold people accountable, etc.

If your leadership skills need improvement, I recommend joining Toastmasters International. I’ve been a member for over a decade and have personally seen it transform hesitant followers into confident leaders.

On a side note, Lee Iacocca wouldn’t promote someone into a leadership role unless they had spent at least a year in Toastmasters.


When Lee Iacocca took over the reins at Chrysler, the company had a product line that consisted of gas-guzzling cars with “rich corinthian leather.” But consumers were buying smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. So within three years, he introduced cars that consumers wanted, and sales took off.

He saved Chrysler by researching consumer preferences and then delivering what people wanted to buy. What a radical concept!!

Similarly, Funeral Business Builders need to focus on delivering the funeral experience that today’s consumers want, not what they wanted 30 years ago. You do this by following the industry trends and getting in front of them in your local market.

This week, a survey came out from The Foresight Companies that outlined what today’s consumers want and confirmed everything I’ve been telling my clients for the last few years. You can ignore research like this and struggle or follow the trends and build your business. The choice is yours to make.

Get out of the way

Funeral home owners like to be in control. It probably comes from years of sleepless nights when you feel your business is out of control and you’re not sure how you’ll make payroll. But there comes a time in every owner’s life when they need to give up control and get out of the way.

To become a Funeral Business Builder, you need to intentionally get out of the way of their staff when it comes to providing a better funeral experience for families. Hire good people, train them well, empower them to be creative with families, and then get out of their way!

Rather than personally serving every family, you will have to rely on follow-up surveys and Google reviews to tell you how your staff is performing. That’s a hard adjustment for some owners, but if you are going to get to the next level, it’s a critical transition.

“Lead. Follow. Or, get out of the way.”

Lee Iacocca delivered 663 speeches in his 13 years at Chrysler. But, rather than pitching to shareholders, the vast majority of those speeches were delivered to Chrysler employees so that he could create a culture of growth.

As you grow your funeral home business, your team will develop a culture. Will you intentionally create a culture that produces amazing funeral experiences for families, or will you leave it up to chance?

Until next time


PS: My goal is to help you master the skills necessary to build a $10M funeral home business. In case you missed it, here’s the high-level outline for this newsletter series.

  • Character – completed
  • Leadership (today’s article)
  • Productivity
  • Strategy
  • Messaging
  • Marketing
  • Communications
  • Sales
  • Negotiation
  • Management
  • Execution

You can read the past articles in this series at this link


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