Let’s face it. An early “departure” from a coveted position in the White House is a re-branded way of saying you were fired—plain and simple. It broke my heart to see a brilliant, beautiful black woman “fired” in such a way for making a mistake—a dangerous mistake—but a mistake nonetheless. Personally, I blame those in charge of security and protecting the President’s life more so than America’s Chief-Event-Planner, but they did not ask me.
With an MBA from Harvard and an awe-inspiring career history, the past several months following the infamous White House state dinner debacle must have been beyond embarrassing and disappointing for Desirée Rogers. As such, I am sure that the end result is not reflective of the tremendous amount of effort and energy she exerted during her time as the Social Secretary for the White House.
Still, the fairytale journey is about to end, as Rogers announced last week that she would step down from the position, effective later this month. The question is, Why? There is a major issue with the retention of top African-American talent in every competitive industry in this country. So, I ask, what was the real reason behind her departure? Sure, we will continue to receive perfectly scripted answers from the White House and Rogers (unless she decides to write a book—hey, I’d buy it!). I gather President Obama was most disappointed not with her abilities (she is unquestionably talented), but rather her failure to execute in a manner that aligned with the Obama brand. Yes, I said the Obama B-R-A-N-D. I believe the ultimate mistake here was Rogers taking her eye off the prize.
As the owner of a brand management firm working with professional athletes, entertainers, and also high-end companies like Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Tiffany & Co, I notice that many people easily make the same mistake. It is a very thin line, but the line still exists. People, even those with the best of intentions, get caught up in the glamour of an industry and forget whose star is the one that is supposed to be shining. In this economy, there is no such thing as job security.
Here are two critical personal branding lessons you can learn from the potentially misplaced, misaligned, and misfired desire of Ms. Desiree Rogers.
• Lesson Number One: Remember Who is Number One.
When you are hired, never forget you are being brought aboard to do a job. Your personal image matters, but your boss’ image always matters more. No matter how much your boss “appreciates” your talent and supports your dreams, no boss wants to compete with members of his or her staff for attention in the media. Do I think President Obama was jealous—absolutely not. But, the President hates to be embarrassed, and rightfully so. Rogers is being replaced by Julianna Smoot, someone whose name you probably have never heard before. She has a finance background and is seasoned in the politics of politics. In other words, she knows how to stay behind the scenes.