Home » Lessons from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s story

Lessons from Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s story

by Tsitsi Mutendi

On Jan. 8, 2020, the world woke up to the Sussex family announcing their retirement from royal duties as working royals. Ironically, two years later, on Dec. 8, 2022, the world woke up to the Netflix documentary, “Meghan and Harry.” The six-part series tells the story of the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, their experience, and how it led them to leave the “family business.” There is a frame in the documentary where Meghan says, “This is when a family and a family business are in direct conflict … really what they’re doing is blocking a grandson from seeing his grandmother.”

Some spaces are calling out the Sussexes and criticizing them for sharing their story. Initially, they had an interview with Oprah Winfrey, which had a lot of backlash. However, they led this documentary and shared their experience from their perspective. As a family business advisor, I can understand where the emotions are coming from and where their need to tell their story comes from. The British Royal Family has many generations and a legacy that dates back over 1,000 years.

Each generation works towards being good stewards of the family legacy and carrying it into the future. HRH Queen Elizabeth being the longest reigning of these stewards. And although Harry is no longer in direct line to sit on the throne, he is part of the immediate direct line of descendants. Many families with fewer generations in stewardship roles and less history embedded in the family business and wealth have faced similar struggles emanating from cultural or diversity conflicts. There are many lessons to be learned from this situation for both family and business, more so between the generations.

Some of these are:

Next Gens are creating their own path within the greater family history. Like a finely woven tapestry, every family business member has a part that they will play in the family’s history and business. The role of every family member may not be apparent in the beginning, but as we all know, the final picture of the tapestry will always turn out right. The next generations will reach a point where they will reflect on the family’s history and, more so, their own history, and want to forge their own pathway.

This may be outside the family business. And this does not make them less of the family but is an opportunity for the family to be the biggest support system. In the case of Prince Harry, the life experiences of his mother, Princess Diana, and her early demise are a trauma that cannot be erased, and his need to protect his family is a large part of his identity. As a family deals with this situation, empathy may be necessary to uphold their family and keep it together. 

There is a proverb that says, “You attract bees with honey, not vinegar.” The ongoing struggle between the Royal Family and this crop of Next Gens is a fine example of this. The broader meaning of the proverb is that, in life, you will have more success if you go about things with sweetness rather than acidity. From the story told by the Sussexes, the family withdrew all the resources that were made available to them and left them exposed. At the surface level, this looks like a gambit to force them back into the family business and toe the line.

The immediate question is why, as a family, there is a need to use resources, or lack thereof, to place other family members in uncomfortable situations—this in itself as a strategy has proven to be ill-advised and led to the current situation. Family first. In conflicts within the family, this may not seem intuitively the best option, but agreeing to disagree has always been the best option to allow a united front. Viewpoints will always differ depending on where a family member stands and what they are seeing and experiencing.

Taking a united front as a family allows all the family members to feel safe and will enable them to transition to their choices while knowing they have the support of the greater family group. We have seen a similar situation in Africa with the Zulu Royal Family. And it is a situation likely to happen in many families. When King Zwelithini died, his Great Royal wife by law took over as his regent. Before long, she took ill and immediately passed away, leaving the throne vacant. By tradition, the Great Royal Wife’s child was to take the throne, and it is said she had appointed this prior to her death.

However, because of the complex nature of the Zulu household, conflict soon arose, and the current King, Misizulu, found himself facing objections from other siblings and members of the royal household. Right up to his coronation and acknowledgment of his legitimacy, there was conflict. However, on his confirmation, senior family members put family first and endorsed the new King. This support legitimized the continuity of the family and its business, which could have significantly suffered if the conflict had continued unabated.

The media will always go for juicy headlines. In a world where sensationalism sells more than facts and truth, families need to be aware that any news that has the ability to be misconstrued may damage the family and their business. Conflict must be played out within the family’s private space. Allowing or endorsing any media into this conflict may lead to rifts, and it may affect the family business. A fine example of this is the buyout of Twitter by Elon Musk.

Musk has been using the platform to share his thoughts, and in some cases, this has led to the stock value of Twitter losing value, leading to an investor outcry. Similarly, in family businesses, if family members use media in any format to criticize other family members or air grievances, the media monster is only fed by sensationalism. This may do a lot of social capital damage to the family.

Taking their path does not destroy the family. It may, in fact, lead to new opportunities. Many cultural and traditional practices change from generation to generation. In the 1980s, HRH Queen Elizabeth would not allow family members to divorce or marry divorced individuals. This was a reaction to her uncle’s abdication because he wanted to marry a divorced woman. This obviously impacted the family for a long time. However, many things have changed despite the initial resistance. Most of the Queen’s children ended up divorced, and the current King is married to a divorcee who, at one point in time, was abhorred by the British public.

Traditions and culture change with the times to accommodate the diversity of our families, and will enable families to have a greater pool of intellectual and human capital, which will allow for better stewardship and growth for the family.

A family business is only successful if there is respect and continual engagement across generations. We are only as successful as those who came before us. If we learn from them and bring our experiences with us, we become formidable. When there are multiple generations, families need to get professional help to ensure they are communicating across the generations, how each generation can bring to the table the necessary tools, and how to navigate the current and future hurdles.

Using tools like family assembly is also essential, as this brings the family together and allows them to get to know each other. No matter how big the family is, the ability to meet and share experiences brings closeness and is a foundation for communication and collaboration.

There are many ways to build bridges and mend broken fences. Communication is the most important. Empathy is also crucial, above all inclusive of all family members regardless of their choices. 

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