A Good Home

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!

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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.

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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.