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7 Fixes for Our Dysfunctional Royal Family

Yes, my friends: Canada is a constitutional monarchy — one of 4 “core Westminster states” headed by Queen Elizabeth — so it’s “our” royal family too!

Blog Photo - QE on Cdn money 4

And no — I wasn’t always an author and journalist. For years, I was an organizational change leader, working with media executives whose organizations were going through big changes, including crises such as the newest one facing the royal family. 

Early this  morning, I drafted a few thoughts about how “The Firm” can be run better. Please read it with a critical eye and tell me what you think. Warning: You’ve not seen me do this kind of writing before, and likely won’t again!

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The new crisis threatening the royal family – Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan’s public announcement that they plan to partially withdraw from their roles as senior royals – has caused widespread alarm in the family and among people who believe it still has an important role to play in the modern world.

I’m not here to debate that latter point. I’m arguing that this crisis was entirely preventable. 

Emerging from the many stories about the divisions, jealousy and infighting between the palaces is a second picture. We are seeing glimpses of a royal family mired in secrecy and inept management and locked in a tug of war — between ancient rules, warring parties and an urgent imperative to adapt.

It’s an organization that is badly led and managed, and one blatantly lacking the plan, skills and knowledge that could have prevented this crisis.

Blog Photo - QE on Canadian money 3

Queen Elizabeth, monarch of the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (‘the 4 core Westminster states’) and titular head of the 53 nation Commonwealth, has ordered her team to resolve the crisis — not just for the good of negotiations with Harry and Meghan, but to prevent similar crises in future generations of royals.

The problem, however, is that the royal family has demonstrated that it is a dysfunctional team. And while it may call itself ‘The Firm’, it’s becoming clearer by the day that it’s a poorly-run organization with big cracks in its foundation. It urgently needs to bring in the skills and knowledge it lacks.

 If the royal family hasn’t already hired an expert in strategic planning and team-building, it had better do so immediately.

If it doesn’t have expertise in how to bend archaic rules that favour one child over all others and relegate siblings to non-entity status, it needs to acquire such skills today.

And if, as seems evident, it does not have a real leader, it needs to designate one now. With crisis after crisis taking place on her watch in just a few months, the queen has lost the confidence of some onlookers; more and more of them are suggesting that she is now unfit to be monarch. The situation is untenable.

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To anyone who knows anything about teams and organizations, the warning signs are clear.

First, the royal family  needs to get its act together.  Forget the term ‘family’; this isn’t a close group of relatives. It’s an organization with titles, roles and departments, albeit a badly run one. But instead of acting like one organization, royal staff and their leaders behave like disparate companies fighting against each other for the same customers. This must change.

Second, to be a well-run organization, the royal family should be a tight team. It isn’t. Instead, its different ‘households’, each with their own staff and advisors, seem to spend an inordinate amount of time trying to one-up each other, worrying about being outshone by the others, and leaking stories to royal reporters to make themselves look good.

Third, the royal family’s command chain is in flux and no-one seems to know who is in charge. Is it the queen or her senior courtiers? Is it Charles? Is it, as some people have suggested on Twitter, really William and his courtiers at Kensington Palace? Who is running ‘The Firm’? This must be clarified.

No time is more dangerous for an organization than a shaky period of transition between leaders.  No-one knows who to trust. Allies become rivals, as key  players try to consolidate their power so they will be able to jockey for position under the new regime. 

Fourth, in this period of uncertainty, communication is key. Not only do Charles and his sons not seem to be communicating, but this historically secretive family’s iconic smoke signals are sending messages that may well be inadvertent.

Why on earth – in this time of uncertainty and lack of trust between the senior royals – did the queen, in her annual message to the public, choose to prominently display a family photo that included only the heirs to the throne and excluded the Sussex family? 

This is the year when the Sussexes’ first child Archie was born – wasn’t this the year to include the Sussexes and their infant son in a family photograph?

Fifth, if the royal family has a strategic plan, no-one outside Buckingham Palace seems to know what it is. We hear rumours of Charles wanting a ‘slimmed down monarchy’ but what does that mean? Does it include both his sons and their families? This week’s news reports have suggested that Harry believed he and his wife were not included, and that further alienated him and his wife Meghan.

Sixth, a strong organization recognizes and takes advantage of the strengths of each player. I am not a dedicated royal watcher, but even I can see that the Cambridges and the Sussexes both possess different but valuable assets.

What a gift for the royal family and for Britain, in this, the Brexit era when the country needs to strengthen itself while forging greater bonds with other nations.

The two couples even appeal to different constituencies.

William and Kate, duke and duchess of Cambridge, appeal to more conservative whites in Britain, and yes, to those with nativist or racist preferences.

To them, the couple may be bland, but they are a reassuring reminder of the traditional Britain they loved and still hanker for (as evidenced through the Brexit referendum, and the results of the recent general election). 

Harry and Meghan, duke and duchess of Sussex, appeal to a very different group.

Their British constituency is more liberal and (likely) younger. They appeal to many in liberal-minded, multicultural America and to many, many citizens of Commonwealth nations around the world, far beyond the four core Westminster states. 

The Sussexes even charm some republicans, people in the 4 core states who otherwise would not support the monarchy. Who can forget their overwhelmingly successful tour of Australia and New Zealand?

Differences can be strengths. Diverse talents and personalities can help revitalize an organization, broaden its appeal and help it grow.

But to realize these benefits, an organization needs to have the knowledge and skills required to effectively lead a team. It calls for the kind of no-nonsense leadership that keeps its eyes on its goals, communicates them well, and refuses to tolerate infighting, backstabbing and other unprincipled behaviours in its principals. 

Finally, the royal family needs the will to change the way this ancient institution has operated.

Anyone who has read British royal history or even watched the television series “The Crown” will recognize the historical tragedy of the family’s ‘spare siblings’ – Princess Margaret, Prince Andrew, and the others not destined to be heirs to the throne. Why has the family historically failed to create meaningful, important roles that value and take advantage of their strongest skills?

This week’s salvo from Harry and Meghan demonstrate that they are leaders who have a well-thought out and modern (“progressive”) plan for their future. They may not have the details, but they have the expertise or advisors to help create and make their vision work. As important, they also have the will to see it through.

For the good of its constituents and for the good of itself, I hope the royal family can prove itself at least as capable of doing the same. There’s a role for the royal family in today’s Britain and in the world, but only if it proves that it is capable of carrying out that role.

 

41 thoughts on “7 Fixes for Our Dysfunctional Royal Family”

  1. This is really interesting and should be implemented, Cynthia. Unfortunately, this looks like an organization mired in rivalries and frozen in place by the inability to change (where it isn’t mired). It has caused all sorts of tragedies in recent memory and I feel for them as human beings, but as I replied to a colleague who wondered whether I wanted to “see the royals” from a window across the street from where Charles was giving a speech some years ago, “Those people are why my people are here.” And I’m grateful to them for actions 270 years ago that brought two brothers and one wife and child across the Atlantic. You are right to look at it as an organization as a whole. It’s an organization that chews up its immensely privileged members to no purpose when it could likely be a much greater force for good. It seems Harry is determined his family will not become another tragedy. I hope someone picks up your recommendations or that someone has the guts to hire an organizational development expert and some facilitators.

    1. Thanks, Lisa. I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I don’t do this kind of work or writing anymore, so it feels a bit strange, yet I am confident about every suggestion and observation I’ve made in this post.

    2. So we’ll said and spot on. If the royal family could get younger people to help the firm grow it might just survive. It’s full of stuffy old men who still live in the dark ages. These men rule the roost and think it’s their place to control the family.

      1. Thanks, Mandy. I have concluded that if you are young and/or have ideas of your own, it would be a very difficult family to be part of. Look at Harry. He struggled for so very long to remain a royal.

  2. We have so much dysfunction in our own country that I can hardly think of anything else. Except maybe the climate crisis. But the questions and points you raised are good ones, and let us hope that others are thinking along the same lines. Good luck!

  3. I am not a royal watcher, and have not seen “The Crown”, but I do find your post thoughtful and well-written, Cynthia, your observations and suggestions right on the mark. The fire and passion you exhibit in this type of writing are still there, and I would encourage you to write more of these type of posts. The world still needs your voice in these matters.

    My cynical side says that from what I have observed of human behavior in general, I would not hold out much hope of the royal family correcting its course until it runs aground and there are no choices left, except change, and then come what may. As with most human social problems, hope lies with the young. Hopefully Harry and William, and their spouses, can work together to create something new and functional out of the wreckage of an archaic system.

    1. Just seeing this, Lavinia. Thank you so very much for sharing these thoughts. And I tend to agree with you here: “I would not hold out much hope of the royal family correcting its course until it runs aground and there are no choices left, except change, and then come what may.”

  4. You bring up many excellent points. It does appear that the Queen did learn the lessons from what Victoria failed to do with Albert (who so far as I know was a much better king than was expected in his youth.) Surely, the royals will have progressed past the days where the eldest son (now daughter) inherits the title and the rest are parcelled out to the military, the clergy, or estate manager. At least the youngest son seemed to have found his niche in television production.

    1. Not so sure about Edward. Here is a Guardian headline from several years ago: “It’s a royal cock-up.
      Few were surprised when Prince Edward announced that his career in TV was over. The only mystery was how it had lasted so long. Andy Beckett on how Ardent Productions turned into an industry laughing stock.”

  5. I have to say that I am not a Royal watcher and have only recently been persuaded to view The Crown, currently half way through Series 2. With doubtful adherence to truth this series demonstrates most of your insightful points. For what it is worth I have much empathy for any human being born into such a personality-crushing system. We can only hope that the tentative progress towards openness and inclusivity that has slowly emerged through my lifetime can continue unabated.

    This is a admirably topical post, Cynthia.

    1. Perhaps, Liz. Strangely enough, the Sussexes have revived or fostered interest in the monarchy in the places I never expected: among young people, republicans who usually call for its abolition, and among many people of colour around the world. It will lose these constituencies unless it’s able to prove that it greatly values the Sussexes.

  6. I have been waiting to see what you would write on the subject. Your ideas are excellent and I have often wondered who was running the Royal family’s PR. I have only just seen some of the cruelness towards Meghan and that would be hard for anyone to endure. I don’t think many in the US were aware of exactly what was happening.

  7. Really good article Cynthia and well thought out.

    I like the organizational skills theme you used to bring your points across. I hope someone at ‘The Firm’ reads this nugget. And realize that they currently look rather inept to the world in their handling of these events.

  8. I think that the root of their entire problem lies in the “secrets” they are forced to keep. Why not be more open to simple openness?
    The one thing everyone is sure to want is that which they’re told they can’t have, and that includes Royal secrets.
    My advice to them would “be real.”

  9. I haven’t kept up with what’s happening with the Royals. But I admire how Harry is taking care of his little family. He doesn’t want to see Meghan suffer like his mother did. May God bless and protect them. I hope Canada is good to Meghan. She reminds me of Harry’s mum. Beautiful and kind.
    Blessings – Wendy Mac

    1. Well, Harry is in your neck of the woods with his beloved little family, so you may spot them one day! Lovely to hear from you, Wendy and wishing you and your lovely family all the best in 2020.

  10. Brilliant piece of journalism.
    Everything written is spot on. I’m glad that the photographs were brought up because it’s was blatantly clear that it was intentional maybe not by HM but whoever is running the show and it doesn’t seem to be HM.

  11. I enjoyed reading a different post that shows off your investigative and social change skills. I don’t follow the royal enough to know what’s going on or how to fix it. I assumed much of the drama was manufactured by the media to keep things interesting. And as others have said, our country and leadership are in deep crisis too. I’ve grown skeptical and no longer believe we have much impact as individuals. Big money and special interests seem to control most everything in this country and much of the world. Uggh. I try to keep space for hope.

  12. I do feel very sorry for Harry, Meghan and Archie and hope they can find a more suitable life for themselves (though I doubt Archie will have any agency for a while 😉).

    On the whole, though, I really do think the monarchy is such an outdated system it needs to go. Or at least be radically altered. After a 1000+ years of hell from these people, I’m thoroughly underwhelmed.

    1. Thanks, Helen. Mark Lander, the NY Times London bureau chief said an interesting thing: that the RF is losing the brilliance of Harry and Meghan at the very time they need to form new and strong relationships with parts of the world that appreciate the energy and diversity they represent. (He also said that in general, the people who voted for Brexit were the hardest on Meghan. In their desire to return to a traditional and less progressive Britain, they wounded the RF, one of the greatest symbols of traditional and stability.)

      1. Thank you for this information, Cynthia. I do my best to avoid people with less progressive views, so I don’t know personally how far Brexit and the Harry/Meghan backlash is connected in the minds of some of my compatriots.
        Perhaps I am narrow-minded in my own way by not wishing to engage but it tears me apart when people assume it’s okay to speak malevolently about others.

  13. Harry,Meghan and little Archie ,should make there home in Canada. No fuzz,No bad tungs ,Simple and free.away from that more then antik British Royalty. They did not say anything when now,Quin Elizabeth married Philip,who is Grek and Danish and also a relative to Elizabeth ! That i think is dangerus,not healthykids can come out of the marrige. But as i said the Brittish Royalty is very antik, and it is hard to get old dogs to sit .

  14. Great synopsis of the dysfunctional royal family and changes that should be made. I know little about the English royals (although have loved watching The Crown – makes one so thankful to not be born into royalty). From what I ascertain, though, part (and perhaps a huge) part of the problem is the media/populace obsession with the younger royals and the horrible hounding of them. Harry and Meghan are running for their lives.

  15. I am not a follower of the royal family and am thus, lacking in any detailed information, but I feel you have given me a very clear and concise idea of what’s going on and what needs to be addressed. Yes, this is not the side of you as a writer we’ve seen, but it’s quite compelling. Go, Cynthia!

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