4 Lessons Funeral Service Can Learn From JFK

John F. Kennedy lessons

Anyone who lived through President John F. Kennedy’s assassination knows exactly where they were the moment it happened.

I was four and a half years old, playing with the neighborhood friends on that gloomy November day. I was completely oblivious to the tragedy in Dallas, Texas. However, that evening at the family dinner I could sense something was terribly wrong. During the following days, we silently watched the funeral of JFK on our black and white tube TV.

50 years later, here we are, celebrating the anniversary of JFK’s birthday.

Through his triumphs and his mistakes, John F. Kennedy positioned himself as one of the most admired leaders this country has ever seen. His leadership abilities are so noteworthy, we think funeral service could learn a thing or two from him.

Let’s take a moment to honor John F. Kennedy by looking at four leadership lessons we can learn from him:

1. “Land a man on the moon, before this decade is out, and return him safely to Earth.”

This statement was perhaps one of the boldest visions expressed to the U.S. public in the last 50 years.  In 17 words, JFK expressed a vision that would motivate Americans for nine whole years. His vision was simple, bold and measurable. So bold and audacious that it requires thinking about issues and ideas in a brand new way.  Incremental thought or improvement simply won’t get it done!

In order to accomplish this bold vision, we needed to shift our thinking from “No way can we get that done!” to “If we were to do this by then, how would we do it?”

The funeral service industry could certainly use such a vision that cuts to the heart of the matter in simple, concise terms.  In fact, I believe that the industry actually requires this type of vision to find the way out of our current difficulties. Once we’ve adapted ourselves to the new way of thinking, there will be no looking back.

2. “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

A hallmark of the Kennedy administration was its desire to find alternatives to direct military confrontation with the Soviet Union.  Much of the military and intelligence communities recommended “frying” the Russians, which almost lead to World War III over the Cuban Missile Crisis.  However, back door diplomacy with Kruschev averted disaster in the end.

Our industry should have the same commitment to searching for alternatives to our current approach.  We continue to pursue historically “tried-and-true” methods that no longer serve us right. In fact, these same methods could potentially produce disastrous results. Once we commit to the alternatives and seek that bold mission described above, we’ll be one more step in the right direction.

3. “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This quote, along with JFK’s creation of the Peace Corps speaks of the selflessness that produces benefits in the long-term.  The Peace Corps was developed to help third world countries build infrastructure, while promoting democracy in the long-term.

Too often, I find funeral service taking the short-term approach on meeting the needs of the families we serve.  Although, understandable without the benefit of a bold vision, this short-term perspective actually accelerates problems and issues.  Taking the long-term, selfless perspective is actually selfish in the long run, as it won’t just help your families, but your business as well.

4. “Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction.”

In Kennedy’s famous “Ich Bin Ein Berliner” speech addressing the failures of communism, Kennedy pointed out that you can’t keep put a wall up to keep free people from leaving. The Berlin wall was erected in large part to prevent the departure of the best and the brightest from the Soviet Union. Attempting to contain ideas and stemming the flow of democracy is futile.  History shows us again and again that we cannot stop change.

This is a lesson funeral service should especially take notes on. The more we try to preserve the past, the more likely our walls will crumble in the long run.  It is much more productive to learn about and understand those ideas and needs and to respond to them constructively than it is to contain them.  It is the only way to create long-term success.

It’s your turn to reflect…

JFK was so good with words, it wouldn’t make sense to end this blog with my own.

Instead, I’ll leave you with his unforgettable inaugural address:


What do you admire about John F. Kennedy? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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