Once Upon A Time … there was a handsome young prince who married a lovely brunette actress …
It sounds like the beginning to a beautiful story. Yet, when Prince Harry announced that he was stepping down from royal life, the world seemed shocked. So did the Royal family and their advisors. But, should they have been?
If their very public drama was playing out in your own family business, which role would be yours? Queen Elizabeth? Prince Charles? Prince William? Prince Harry? Or one of the many advisors who appeared equally surprised by this seemingly sudden (but all too predictable) turn of events in their client’s family and business?
Come with me as we peek behind the heavy velvet drapes and eavesdrop inside what I imagine as our characters’ private thoughts during this difficult chapter in one of the world’s oldest family businesses. See if you can spot the similarities to the dragons silently lurking in the shadows of your own story.
THE QUEEN … Good grief, I had no idea I would still be running this thing after 70 years! I mean, I guess I should have realized I COULD be, but enough already! I’m exhausted and frankly sick of this whole business and all the drama it seems to bring with it. I thought it would be easier by now.
Maybe I could get Boris Johnson to convince Parliament to allow one of those private equity firms to just buy us out and leave all the money to charity to care for my people. Fat chance of that happening! I should have asked Winston Churchill to do it years ago, that man seemed to be able to get things done. Ah well, it’s too late for that now.
I guess I’m just going to have to accept that I have no choice but to stick it out at this point and reconcile myself to the fact that I’m going to die at my desk one day. That seems to be the only way I’ll get out of this thing.
And, really, what else would I do with myself anyway? I guess it’s not that bad and besides there ARE a lot of perks with this job. It really IS good to be The Queen most days.
At least I don’t have to deal with what I hear those other leaders talking about colloquially as “succession planning.” They act like it’s something new they’ve dreamed up when we’ve been doing it here for eons.
But, really! The way this whole plan was set up gives me no flexibility to decide WHO should come next. Oh well, at least when I’m gone I won’t have to watch what a dog’s dinner my son is going to make of it.
But I do find myself lying awake at night wondering … Can I possibly hang on long enough to outlive that ninny and pass this whole business directly on to my grandson and that smart little cookie Kate?
PRINCE CHARLES … Good Lord, is that woman going to live forever???
I’ve been SOOOO good waiting for my turn all these years. If I was King, there is so much I could have done by now. At this rate, by the time I get to run the show, I’ll be so old, I’m not sure it will even matter anymore.
I’ve spent my whole life just biding my time when I could have been doing something else that I really wanted to. If I’d known I’d be waiting this long, I might have done exactly what Harry’s done, too.
But why on earth couldn’t he have just TALKED with me about this before flying off the handle? How was I to know he felt like that? We could have found some way to create a role he might have been happy with. It makes no sense, really. He’s always known the way this was set up, didn’t he?
That boy’s always been so hot headed and now that he’s made a big stink about things, it’s embarrassing. He knows better than to hang the family’s dirty laundry in public, we always handle these things our own way. It’s bad enough we’ve had to deal with the blowback from my brother Andrew’s shenanigans with that nasty fellow Epstein. And now Mother and I have to find ways to support both Andrew and Harry and keep all that money off the books. Why couldn’t they have just continued to go along with the ways things have always been done?
I’m too old for all of this although I guess I don’t really have any choice. I’ve already waited this long, but man she seems to have no plans to ever give it up. I feel bad watching my dad spend all that time alone. It’s as if she doesn’t even realize what it meant that he gave up his career to support hers. They could be spending this time they have left together before one of them dies. But she’s so stubborn about never stepping down just because Edward did it and it colors her ability to see what’s best for everyone. It’s sad but no one should be left hoping their parent dies just so he can finally step into the role he’s been destined for his whole life!
I wonder if I should find a way to set some mandatory retirement age so I don’t do that to my own kids? Nah, I’ve waited so long already, I don’t want to cut my time short either. I guess in some ways I’m just like her. Besides, I’m sure I’ll be able to hang on to my marbles and do a good job like my Mother has. What could go wrong?
PRINCE WILLIAM … It’s been pretty good being the Prince and, honestly, it’s been reassuring to know so clearly that I’m the heir apparent to all of this.
My grandmother gives me a lot of latitude and the people seem to really like me, but it does feel like a lot of responsibility and pressure at times. I probably would have chosen this role anyway. But it’s a little weird to realize that I never even had an option and, even if I screw it up, there’s no real consequences – well, except, I guess if there’s a revolution, right? But what’s the chance of that?
Even though I’ve always been destined for this, and sort of “in training” my whole life, I hope my dad gets to run the show for a while before I become King. It would suck for him to not have even gotten a turn after waiting all that time.
I know he’s getting up there in age himself, but I could use a couple more years to watch how it’s done before it’s my turn, especially since it seems like people expect me to walk some fine line between keeping everything the same and modernizing it at the same time. Everything is changing so quickly right now. Somehow, even though my grandmother was a lot younger than me when she took over, and I’m sure I’d do a great job, I think things were simpler back then. I can’t tell anyone but I kind of like that my role is more “ceremonial” anyway.
Of course, I am bummed that Harry is gone but, really, we’ve all known he wasn’t ever going to fit in here anyway. Now I won’t have to worry about all the sibling rivalry stuff I’ve watched my dad and my grandmother deal with.
I really will have to think about how to prepare for something like that as my kids grow up. It’s tricky though, right? I guess I don’t have a lot of choice if I want this thing to continue on beyond me. It’s easier to just choose George because he’s the oldest. Still, I’m torn.
I’d kind of like to encourage my own kids to explore their passions. I sometimes envy Harry for the freedom he’s gotten to just be himself. I feels kind of cruddy to make the other kids wait in the wings their whole life “just in case” – especially since I’m starting to see that one of them looks like this is a better fit than the others. But, I’ve got to find a way to keep them all in it so they don’t leave the family high and dry if we need one of them. That’s probably why all those distant cousins are always getting handed titles and special assignments. It pays to keep them around even if they are a lot of trouble to manage.
PRINCE HARRY … I feel so conflicted all the time.
Of course, I’m thrilled for my brother Will and I love being an uncle. I mean, those kids are so cute.
I’m not even sure I ever really wanted to be King, but even if I did, there was no point in saying it. Will’s always been the chosen one. The “Master Plan” was never up for discussion in this family. Sure, everyone tried to make me feel like I was a part of things, but it’s always been clear that there’s no real role for me here and I was just the backstop.
Will & Kate seem to have no limit on the number of kids they’re going to pump out and the truth is, no matter what I do, I just keep getting pushed further and further back in line.
I mean, it’s great to not have all the pressure on me like he has. I’ve been able to pretty much do what I wanted and party with the girls and all, but no one really respects me either. They just want to get close to my family and my influence … Hey, I wonder if that’s what it felt like for Uncle Andrew, knowing Will & I skipped ahead of him. Oh, wait, he’s even behind my son Archie. Yikes – he’s had it even worse than me. I wonder why he never pulled me aside to tell me to be sure to get my own life and interests? I’ve got to remember to do that for Charlotte and Louis before it’s too late.
Anyway, it’s been rough because, as I’ve gotten older, the family has all these expectations of me. And now they have them of my wife, too. For heaven’s sake, they even tell her how to sit and what color nail polish she can wear. I’m getting sick of taking flak from them and from her on all of this.
No one even asks what I want! It’s as if I’m just some cog in their giant machine and they all assume I’ll do whatever they decide. I’ve tried to talk about it a lot of times but it always falls on deaf ears. All I get is – “That’s the way we’ve always done things.”
So, you know what? I’m OUT! I’ll show them I don’t need them. I can be my own man!
Uh-oh, maybe I should have thought that whole thing through a little more or gotten some advice first. I wasn’t exactly sure what “financial independence” would look like in the real world and I never really developed another career because I just assumed somehow I’d always be part of the family business. It’s kind of lonely and I miss some of the things I didn’t realize were part of the business and not mine. Equally challenging is that being part of this family means there are some other parts of the business and the family that I’m always going to be tied to. It seems I can’t fully cut ties with them even if I wanted to and there’s not easy way back. It has been really hard to navigate and I don’t feel like I have anyone to talk to about all this.
We know that even fairy tales with glamorous royal characters and access to loads of elder statesmen as advisors don’t always have happy endings. The truth is that what we’ve seen play out in the House of Windsor is not some novel problem that inexplicably confronts only empty-headed characters in a fairy tale.
Every family business, big or small, is filled with predictable emotional turmoil that, when it goes unaddressed, rears its head like fire-breathing dragons – all too often burning down the kingdom, scorching the earth and scarring generations in the process. We don’t have to leave the characters in our own stories or those of our clients in the dark to fend off these dragons by themselves.
The choice is yours. Are you ready to learn how to bravely leash the dragons of unexpressed emotions and help your people live happily ever after? My book The Seller’s Journey can give you the language to begin those conversations and I’m only a call away to help you, too.