Whether you are #TeamSussex #TeamWindsor (or as many I’ve spoken to, neither and both) as Meghan shared on her recent interview with Oprah, the couple are now thriving. But at what emotional cost to all those involved?
On September 12 2019 I found myself wandering through the John Lewis department store in London’s Oxford Street looking to update my working wardrobe, bumping straight into a Royal correspondent I knew but hadn’t seem for some time who was there to watch Meghan, Duchess of Sussex launch her new fashion collection with the charity SmartWorks on the roof terrace above. We had an open, honest and thought-provoking conversation and something in me sensed this was more than coincidence – but I was keeping a low profile, recuperating after cancer treatment and not fully back to work. A month or so later when I watched Tom Bradbury’s ITV documentary – Harry & Meghan: An African Journey I couldn’t shake the feelings I had the month before, especially after hearing the language the young Royals used when talking about their emotions. I recognised their mindset, pain and how they were struggling to cope.
Reaching out to my correspondent friend who I’d also worked with personally, I shared how I’d love to provide the couple with some practical coaching tools and support to help them transition to a growth mindset and model new behaviours to truly thrive and rise, and asked whether she could facilitate an introduction to suggest this. From an observational viewpoint it seemed as though the couple were inadvertently operating within something called the Karpman Drama Triangle (a social model of human interaction proposed by Stephen B. Karpman) where each person is moving positions to get their needs met, but in a toxic and unhealthy way. Harry and Meghan appeared to be moving back and forth switching between the Victim and Rescuer roles and viewing everyone else involved (the media, Buckingham Palace, even some of their family) in the role of Persecutor. I was keen to introduce them to TED* (*The Empowerment Dynamic® where the Rescuer becomes the Coach, the Persecutor becomes the Challenger and the Victim becomes the Creator, allowing all involved to show up differently and feel more empowered and in control.
Despite my illness I’d recently completed cutting-edge, powerful professional trainings in transformational coaching, facilitation and leadership (from an organisation based in the US) and with around 15 years experience working with new parents (I previously ran a ground-breaking mum and baby clinic which supported over 10,000 high powered women, celebrities and those in the public eye through the pregnancy journey) felt I had many aligned tools, insights and experiences that could help them to be powerfully modern leaders and the “breath of fresh air” everyone hoped they would be.
Alongside the new skills I also had a deep understanding of where they could be as new parents (emotionally exhausted, overwhelmed, vulnerable and fragile) as well as my insights into complex loss and trauma (in 2013 my ex-partner died suddenly in tragic circumstances) and my own mental health experiences contemplating suicide and navigating high anxiety and depression at various times in my life when things hadn’t gone to plan. Although we can never truly know how another person may feel I’d also worked with clients who’d gone through miscarriages, pregnancy complications and most tragically, stillbirth so brought a breadth of wisdom and experience to the all the work that I did. Many of my clients were creating “blended families”, some were mixed race and many were mixed cultures (South African, Australian or American with a British partner was very common) and although I’d not worked with Royalty directly I’d a number of high profile and extremely private high net worth individuals and business leaders who had major trust issues, so discretion and flying below the radar was second nature to me.
I called Buckingham Palace and reached out to Fiona Mcllwham, Harry and Meghan’s Private Secretary and sent a direct note (and notes via other connections who knew her) but sadly received no reply. I shared (confidentially) with a small network of women I knew to ask them to hold a space for the possibility and did follow up a couple of times but my own limiting beliefs started kicking in. Yet, as we all know now, at around this same time Bryony Gordon was sitting on a sofa at Frogmore Cottage in Windsor listening to Meghan open up about her mental health so my sense that help and support was needed was, in fact, spot on.*
Since then the Royals have gone through the kind of fallout that I personally wouldn’t wish on any family and whilst Harry and Meghan may feel they have “no regrets“, plenty of evidence to support “their truth” and feeling there was little more to lose because there’s “a lot that’s been lost already”, you only have to listen to his brother’s tone when asked if the Royals are a racist family to sense the hurt and impact of what was chosen to be shared – and how.
There’s no doubt many have welcomed the couple’s bravery and strength to speak out on difficult topics, and feel for their mental health challenges and wellbeing. Feeling suicidal requires prompt and specialist attention, not embarrassment or ridicule, and it does take courage to admit our darkest thoughts or when we’re emotionally overwhelmed – because as we’ve clearly seen, there is still plenty of judgement around.
We do need to constantly challenge gender and racial bias, inequality and hurtful behaviour but sometimes we also need to forgive.
I pray for forgiveness and healing for them so they can use this as a teachable moment for us all.Michelle Obama
As anyone who’s been through personal or organisational transformation knows: change isn’t always easy and fear and resistance are to be expected, as are differences of opinion. But there are ways to communicate, to turn difficult conversations into generative ones and speak up without involving shame or blame, or coming from a place of lack, fear or isolation. Creating trust and a confidential safe space to listen for greatness and the varying views on all sides is an absolute must, as is making the commitment to have braver conversations, starting with those you have with yourself first, every single day.
Being able to admit what you can, could or should take personal responsibility for and acknowledging where you perhaps could, or would have responded differently, with the benefit of hindsight or a wider, observational perspective is critical if we want to build bridges, strong connections and move forward together. And all of these skills require emotional intelligence as a base.
Strong self-awareness and awareness of the result of your actions is a vital part of EI and whilst self awareness is the ability to recognise and relate to your emotions, it’s also being accurate with the feedback you perceive. In lots of cases we tend to shift the blame onto others rather than recognising the areas in our lives where we actually have the power and possibility to change.
In every transformation I’ve been a part of there is always the “breakdown” before the “breakthrough” so we have to take deep breaths and admit where we might have got things wrong, been over-sensitive or got triggered to react, rather than respond. We have to take responsibility for where we may have held back, given up or said or done the wrong thing because nobody’s perfect and we all make mistakes, much of the time.
In this scenario had the whole family been able to have more honest conversations without worrying about the optics or conflicting agendas it could all be a very different story – and everyone involved in this painful and now very public situation, has to take shared responsibility and accountability for that.
Whilst I may not have been the right coach or therapist on this occasion, being known as a bridge-builder and peace-maker in some very volatile situations, I do wish I’d had the opportunity to try. Going forward, if any of the family (and that includes Harry & Meghan) would like some insights on dealing with transformation and change more constructively, my advice would be this: Look at everything through a growth lens and with the intention of having a collaborative learning experience that stretches you all. Be willing to shift from a position of being “right’ to a position where your shared intention is for the higher and greater good. Navigate conflict with the assumption that new pathways forward are there (you just may not have discovered or considered them yet). And, Stay emotionally connected and be willing to listen more than you speak.
Exploring power with, not power over, is a tricky line to navigate when a hierarchical structure is in place but when all parties have a commitment to change, amazing new possibilities can appear.
Going forward we all need to be willing to adopt a growth mindset; be open to new possibilities which we’ve never previously even imagined or considered and to regularly check in on whether we are, in fact, in growth. To avoid any confusion, here are five ways to understand what’s meant by a fixed or growth mindset because my favourite quote of Oprah’s are taken from Maya Angelou’s words..
Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.Maya Angelou
- You let go of seeing mistakes and failures as “bad” or possibly going into a shame spiral where you can feel that you are a failure, invisible, not supported or not “enough” to being excited by learning, open to reflection and “harvesting” your experiences to constantly do better.
- You no longer see the power and success of others as a threat but are inspired by others and can celebrate and amplify those around you knowing “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
- You actively avoid feedback to seeking growth-orientated and self-developmental feedback (a brilliant process I learnt from Claire Zammit Ph.D) where you and those involved are all equally committed to expanding your potential – and you are willing to listen to what’s being said.
- You avoid conflict to seeing disagreements as normal and learn to hold a space which allows for a wide variety of voices and opinions to be heard.
- You let go of believing that vulnerability is shameful to seeing it as a way to build trust and deepen your connection with others.
*Ironically on the 27 May 2019 Bryony and I ran together at the Vitality London 10,000 as part of a campaign called “Celebrate You”. We stood in a tent together and stripped down, yards apart, to run in our underwear to promote body positivity but post-cancer my self–confidence was as wobbly as my thighs and even though I wanted to say hello, didn’t feel brave enough to do so!