What I Learned About the Queen’s Funeral Plans from the Archbishop’s Office


In 2019, before the world came crashing down, I was at Lambeth Palace, the headquarters of the Archbishop of Canterbury, working on house searches we conducted.

While I was there I asked some of the staff what they were working on. After they went through a few things, I said, “Not to sound morbid, but when are you all going to start planning the Queen’s funeral?”

They replied, “Oh, that’s been done a long time ago. We have it all planned, even to how everyone here comes back from wherever they are when the day comes.” I was quite surprised, but I guess I shouldn’t have been. They went on to say something like, ‘You know, we know that sooner or later the day for a funeral will come. So we plan well in advance to make that day easier.”

I almost forgot about our meeting until the Queen passed away last week. Now I realize two great insights that I have gained from the advanced planning that the Archbishop’s staff has done for this momentous occasion.

Because the staff planned ahead, they made funeral decisions while their minds were clear. Second, because they made decisions in advance, they left plenty of room for healthy emotional processing and grief.

As I watch the news with lines around every corner of people waiting to pay their last respects to the Queen, it dawns on me that this is true for all of us. Not just funeral planning, but succession planning.

If you are the leader of an organization, I advise you to ask yourself if the day will come when your time will end. Rather, like the Archbishop’s staff, focus on the reality that… follow-up will happen one day. The question is not whether the succession will take place. Rather, it is a question of whether you prepare in advance. I suggest two benefits for starting your succession planning early.

1. Planning ahead enables planning with a clear mind.

The biggest mistakes I’ve seen in a row schedule or when big decisions are made in a very emotional time. Emotionally charged rooms rarely make sober decisions.

Make your decisions now while your head is clear. After doing hundreds succession plans for organizations over the years I have come to believe that there are very few master rules for succession planning. One rule, however, is clear every time.

The person with the most time wins.

If you start planning now, while you have all the time, you have more time for options. And you have time to adjust your course if things don’t turn out the way they seem. The reality is that planning your succession is an emotional roller coaster. There is very little training for it, and ultimately it is planning that surrounds your departure from your current leadership position. That creates an emotional burden. The Archbishop’s staff reminded me of this truth.

People who make emotional decisions with a sober mind always get ahead.

2. Planning ahead now leaves room for emotions and mourning later.

A long time ago, I had talked to one of our kids about leaving home and going to college. And they said something that was perhaps the most self-assured statement I’ve heard from someone preparing to move out of the house.

They said to me, “Dad, the reality is that part of me doesn’t really know if I want to grow up.”

That’s refreshingly clear, and actually a very mature statement. In my experience as a pastor, counselor, and search consultant, I realize that most of the problems we have with milestones are really the grieving process. Sad that the chapter is closed. Grieving that life is passing too quickly. Just sadness.

Succession is no different. Even with all the grand planning and celebration of a good tenure or career, succession planning signals the end of a season. And when we realize that the season is over, we grieve.

Many of our customers in succession planning discover that the emotional burden of passing the baton is greater than they could ever have imagined. For most, it’s the first time they’ve ever handed it over. For others, it marks the end of a career, and whether it’s a business, a churcha schoolor a non-profit organization, the people accustomed to a leader’s leadership mourn the loss of that leader.

This weekend, take a look at the lines around London to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II. Well deserved respect, but my oh my what an emotion is connected with a very easily foreseen sequence. Thank goodness the people in the Archbishop’s office had a plan to follow, making all their decisions long before emotion came into play.

I’m going to take this as a lesson for me. I’m going to get more of my . to start succession planning now, while I have a sober head. As the business grows and I still have many years to go. And while there is not much emotion attached to it.

Imagine what you could do if you could plan for the future with all options open. Imagine what you could do if you could plan with your head empty. And imagine how much freedom there will be when it comes time to pass the baton and you have no plans. There will be freedom for celebrations and for sorrow. Freedom for all feelings.

Thanks to Queen Elizabeth II for a wonderful service. Probably one we won’t see again. And thanks to her board and the church she led, for thinking ahead and… schedule. I bet everything will go in a beautiful, respectful and unforgettable way.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here