Case Study: Jen Rayworth

Case Study: Jen Rayworth

Jen Rayworth is the co-owner of Smith’s Funeral Homes. She signed the papers to become co-owner 5 days after giving birth to her son, Hugo. We wanted to talk to Jen about what the idea of leadership means to her and how that idea has evolved over the last couple of years. Primarily, Covid exposed that leaders must be prepared to wear many hats and great leaders must grow and evolve with their teams.

Jen is a role model for great leadership, particularly for women in a field traditionally dominated by men. Her servant leadership is something that has always inspired us. Here is what she has to share on leadership in the funeral care profession.

How did your leadership shift during Covid?
My key priority became letting our team know we cared about them and that they were our top priority. Without our team, we have nothing. For the first time ever safety of our people became our #1 priority. We needed their trust that we would put their safety first. One of the things I am most proud of from our leadership during the pandemic was in the middle of the pandemic we sent out team thank yous on postcards with a bonus so that they knew they were appreciative and there to support them. We still do lots of little things from treating them to food, listening to their needs and trying to accommodate them and writing thank you notes, etc.

What kind of leadership is required as we transition out of the pandemic?
I believe it still resides in putting our team first as it is the backbone of our business. People are looking for stability in their work and life. They want to feel heard and appreciated. I will look to shift some of my time on innovation, understanding the current and future landscape of funeral services and building a vision of where it is going and how the pandemic has impacted our families and profession. People aren’t the same as they were pre-COVID. We are dealing with people that are more intense and emotional and they have higher expectations. They are also not as trusting so there is no margin for mistakes. What I am looking for as I build our team is resiliency and the ability to manage the extreme ups and downs, which has changed since pre-Covid.

How do you leverage your team?
As a leader, I think it is important that I know what each team member’s strengths are and nurture those versus trying to change them or improve a weakness. I try to put my team in roles that play to their strengths. When we do this, everyone wins. The team feels happy and empowered and in turn, everything gets elevated. The best way to discover someone’s strength is to talk to them and pay attention to their work. We want to get back to one-on-one meetings with our team.

Who do you model your leadership style after?
Definitely, Don Smith. Don’s leadership style has evolved and changed over the years, as he knows leadership is always about learning and growing. One of his most consistent traits has been his commitment to serve others and the community. I have worked at Smith’s since I was 16 years old and I have watched his leadership grow and evolve over time. His life experience as well as the changes in the profession have helped shape this. His vision for Smith’s, his community involvement and how he runs the operation has been very influential to me.

How has becoming a parent changed your leadership?
When I returned to work I gained a real understanding of women in the profession. Before, when you had a baby, you either came back full time or not at all. Now, we have grown and learned that we need to make space for new parents. Family is our main priority. We are now open to part-time work, extended leaves if requested and increased flexibility in our work schedules. Our priority as ownership is to hire great people and then we go about figuring out how it can work for everyone involved.

Are there any unique challenges given you are a female leader?
Yes, people assume I am the personal assistant to Dave and George because I am a woman. When I am sitting on a board, I am usually the only female. There just hasn’t been enough female representation in leadership roles in our profession. It is changing as more directors are female, but we need these women to move into management as we bring unique traits to the profession.

What does leadership mean to you?
If I had to pick a word, I would say leadership is action. As leaders, we need to walk the talk. I believe passion, trust, vulnerability and authenticity are all very important leadership qualities, but your team must see you living these things out. It's about service to others, in all facets, even when people are not looking. Leaders must role model what you want to see in others, even when it’s hard. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable if you want to grow and learn.

Do you believe people are drawn to leadership roles in our profession?
It has been hard for businesses to find leaders as many people have decided they want a clear separation from their work and the rest of their life. I understand that but I also believe in ‘life’s work’ and finding deeper meaning as well as fulfilment. We can find incredible meaning, worth and inspiration in our workplaces. Those things don't have to exist only outside of work. Part of who I am is what I do. Part of what I do is who I am. This is what makes me so passionate and inspired for what I do and makes me a better person.

Jen is an innovative leader in the industry and she is working everyday to lead with action and compassion for her team and the families they serve.

What one word describes leadership to you? Leave us a comment!

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