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Happy National Mentoring Month!

Established in 2002 and recognized by the US president and administration, the month of January has celebrated the power of mentoring and encouraged others to explore how mentoring programs can help organizations to create more productive engaged, and satisfied people. It first began at Harvard University, TH Chan School of Public Health. Its goal is to amplify, encourage, and strengthen mentorship for young people.

Do we have mentoring programs in our profession? The answer is yes. NFDA has a Meet the Mentors, Selected Independent Funeral Homes has their Leadership Academy that offers coaching and mentoring and there are probably others in various associations and organizations. I was part of the Athena Foundation over the years which has mentoring programs available to women in business.

Ask yourself as a funeral home, cremation, and/or cemetery company owner, or manager, how good of a mentor do you think you are? Have you had a mentor in the past when you were younger that had an impact on you and if so, what did you learn from them? For those younger in our profession, have you ever been mentored, was it effective? Are you being mentored now?

As a former funeral service company owner and now a business coach, I have found that mentoring was and still is one of the most important parts of my job.  I spent countless hours as an owner having one on one’s with our team members helping them grow and improve themselves as leaders. I have volunteered for the Selected’s Leadership Academy over the years, and I find it very gratifying to give back to their students.

As a business coach for my clients, there is also mentoring involved.  The difference between the two is that a mentor is someone who helps others develop and grow and at the same time, shares information about their knowledge and skills. Coaching is something that also is important as it provides help working on professional and personal goals that assist individuals to achieve their highest potential. The combination of both can be most effective for individuals and companies who wish to experience real growth for their key team members, themselves, and their companies. 

I have been mentored and coached over the years by many wonderful and qualified leaders in our profession, from business to leadership, all of whom I appreciated and learned so much from.

When I was a young funeral director, there were not many women in funeral service. In fact, one of my dad’s employees told me a story of how they had only 1 woman licensee at Baue’s before me, and she kept forgetting to turn her pager on when she was on call. It did not give me much encouragement in my early years and I soon found out that I needed to prove myself to all the men with whom I worked.

In the early 1980s, my dad began a new program for the National Foundation of Funeral Service, now the Funeral Service Foundation called Women in Funeral Service. NFDA still puts on this program today as the Professional Women’s Conference.

I attended these programs and met some amazing women. One was Sandra Strong from Albuquerque NM. She owned her own business and was a skydiver in her early years. She was known as the “Pink Lady” as she wore a hot pink jumpsuit. Another was Dr. Priscilla Leavitt, a grief and loss expert, whose husband owned a funeral home in Parkersburg West Virginia. The third woman who was one of our instructors, was Anna Louise Bonjiovi a funeral director and embalmer funeral home and flower shop owner, from New Jersey.

All 3 of these women became mentors and role models to those of us fortunate to learn from them in the first few years of the course. They were smart, strong, and incredible leaders. Anna is a past president of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association, Priscilla has a Doctorate in psychology, and owned her practice. Sandra bought her father’s funeral home and was the first woman president of the Order of the Golden Rule (OGR) an independent funeral home association.  They shared their stories about success and their failures, and we learned a great deal from them over the years.

In 1987, my dad died when I was only 30 years old, and all three of these women reached out to me. I remember during Dad’s visitation, I was called away to take a phone call from one of them who was calling to encourage me and shared “Lisa, you can do this, you can buy and operate your dad’s firm”. I had many self-doubts back then as I was
“just a funeral director”. What did I know about running a business? (Nothing by the way). My dad had just died, I was mourning, scared, and had no clue how funeral homes operated. Plus, he had just bought an 80-acre memorial gardens cemetery.

I made many mistakes over the years as a business owner, but one thing I learned early on, is that if it had not been for the early mentoring of these three women from the beginning and the continued support, they gave me over the years, I would have been a successful business owner or a funeral director. I am a better person for knowing them and will be forever grateful for their mentorship.

So, I ask you, readers, going forward, who will you find to mentor you? What kind of support do you need? Or are you in a place to become a mentor to others, either in your firm or outside of your community? Give it some thought to be part of a mentoring program, as it is a worthwhile and gratifying endeavor.

If you would like more information on the mentoring and coaching opportunities Your Funeral Coach offers, please reach out to me at any time.

Lisa Baue