Lead First, An Article by Laura Schwartz
Over eight years behind the scenes at the White House I learned many lessons from President Clinton himself as well as the actual house in which we all worked and treasured. It is a joy to share It is a joy to share these mostly First Ladies lessons from my signature keynote on leadership, “Lead First,” as a part of my salute to Women’s History Month, March 2020.
As the White House Director of Events I spent more time in the White House more than my own house for 8 years. The house itself, particularly its East Room, is a popular venue for everything from bill signings, press conferences and state dinners to weddings, birthday parties and Christmas celebrations. The East Room, once called the public audience room, is the largest in the house listing at 2960 square feet. With its mahogany doors, gilded cornice work, federal style furniture and paintings of our country’s First President and First Lady, George and Martha Washington, it is easily identified with the White House and I identify with it my most valuable lessons in life and work I reflect on today with my top 5 lessons from the East Room.
#1 NOTHING IS BENEATH ANY TITLE
The 1st First Lady to live in the White House was Abigail Adams, the wife of our second President John Adams. Since the East Room was the largest and warmest room in the house at the time Mrs. Adams used it to hang laundry. Here we had our 1st First lady in residence who was always being lauded in the social pages for her glamorous parties and wardrobe …. and she hung laundry. Which teaches us all that no matter your title – you do what needs to be done even if that’s hanging the laundry.
#2 SOMEONE IS ALWAYS THERE
Ghosts of President Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson and First Lady Abigail Adams are among the most popular to be seen or heard by other Presidential families, visiting heads of state and others following their White House tenure. First Lady Abigail Adams ghost has been recalled on several separate occasions as wearing a white nightgown and cap walking with her hands outstretched (as if carrying a basket of laundry) hurriedly towards the East Room. This taught me that it is important to realize that someone is always there – even when we think we are alone, mentors are all around us. If we take a moment to look up from our struggling project, our questions about the industry or our difficult decisions, we are surrounded by professionals and friends in and outside of our offices to ask for advice or discuss similar trials or triumphs and what to do next.
#3 REACH OUTSIDE YOUR CIRCLE
As First Lady, Jackie Kennedy had a rule. If you were invited to a social function at the White House, you were invited with a guest. But after mingling over cocktails and making your way through the receiving line with the President, First Lady and their honored guests as you entered the dining room…you and your guest were seated at different tables for dinner. This was the First Lady’s way of enticing conversation – getting everyone to reach outside of their circle and yes, even their comfort zone, and meet someone new. Even Jackie Kennedy would sit with the head of state while her husband the President would host the table with the spouse of the head of state. So, next time you are about to take a seat at your morning staff meeting, an industry conference or dinner – take a seat next to someone new or different then usual. And, next time you begin a conversation at a cocktail party or just waiting in line for a cocktail itself – reach outside of your circle to meet even just one person new. It may just change your life!
#4 SOME DAYS YOU HAVE TO FIGHT
President “T.R.” Theodore Roosevelt, a strong supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, was known to us as a burley, cowboy of a man, a rough rider – but in actuality when he was a child suffered from asthma and poor health. His father, to help young Teddy overcome physical weakness, hired a boxing coach to strengthen him physically and emotionally following which Teddy became a life-long boxing enthusiast. President Roosevelt was known to have held boxing matches in the East Room and that taught me that even though some days are tough – you just have to fight and get through. That’s what he did and that’s what we can all do everyday no matter the opponent.
#5 YOU HAVE TO HAVE FOCUS UNDER FIRE
First Lady Dolley Madison was at home preparing dinner with her servants when her husband, President James Madison alerted the White House that the British had advanced in their invasion of Washington and they would be soon on their way to burn down the White House. Instead of Dolley running for her clothes or other personal items she took off for the East Room with what has been recounted as a servant and gardener to save the portrait of our founding Father George Washington. When they couldn’t pry it off the wall due to it be screwed into the plaster, she instructed them to break the frame, roll up the canvas and carry it out to safety. The British did arrive, (ate the dinner that had been prepared) and burned down the house. That painting of George Washington, a copy of the original Lansdowne portrait with great historical significance, is the only original item remaining in the White House today. Dolley shows us that we must remain focused in our every day both personally and professionally and no matter what the “fires” are that burn around us, threaten our business, come up on our path…we must remain focused and we will prevail.
What is the East Room in your life and the lessons its taught you?
Whether 200 years old or just a few, buildings and their rich histories can teach us more then the lessons of present day and still apply in our daily lives. What is the East Room in your life and the lessons its taught you? Let Laura know on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIN: @lauraschwartz, Instagram @lauraschwartzlive.com or direct at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About Laura Schwartz
As the White House Director of Events during the Clinton Administration, Laura created events that represented a nation and inspired the world. At just 19, she arrived at the White House with no political connections and volunteered answering phones in the press office, quickly climbing her way up the ranks as a staff assistant, the Midwest Press Secretary, the Director of Television and ultimately the White House Director of Events.
Today, as a professional emcee, keynote speaker, respected television commentator, founder of Laura Schwartz Live and author of Eat, Drink & Succeed; Laura shares the leadership and networking secrets that skyrocketed her onto the world stage along with personal anecdotes from her life and White House years. Laura empowers, motivates and inspires each audience she encounters and was recently voted by as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the International Events Industry.
For more information on or to schedule Laura to speak, please contact Ashley Brooks at email@example.com or 312-767-7415.