Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Silent power

Q: Was Desiree Rogers too interested in the spotlight to be successful as White House social secretary? Do some jobs require more discretion and less acclaim? Will Julianna Smoot be more suitable for the job -- or just less flashy in it?

One of my great professional mentors was once the leader of a major business organization in the Washington region. He rarely, if ever, took the stage, but always made sure that his volunteer business leaders got the limelight.

He did not seek publicity for himself, but was relentless in pursuing favorable reviews for the business community and issues of importance to area corporate success. His studied public shyness, combined with astute behind-the-scenes networking, made him one of the most powerful people in Washington for many years.

Like that business leader, many of Washington's power elite are not "boldface names" in the Reliable Source or on TV. In fact, some of the most successful people in this town go to great lengths to stay out of public view, believing that they will be most effective if they focus on their clients and the issues, not their own fame.

Desiree Rogers made the fundamental mistake of making the story about her, rather than about her clients -- the Obamas. Her downfall is a familiar morality tale, the confusion of publicity with real success. She has gained some dubious celebrity but lost her job and its access to power.

Over the years I have come to know several people who worked in various White Houses and had close access to the First Family, including a former chief of staff to the First Lady, and a former White House Social Secretary. To this day, these individuals eschew the limelight and refuse to tell tales; both continue to be very powerful women in other lines of business. They are astute practitioners of the power that comes from rendering effective behind-the-scenes advice.

Discretion is an essential characteristic of success in any job that serves the needs of clients, whether the First Couple or plaintiffs or institutions seeking public-relations advice. Most people who hire others to discharge certain duties want those individuals to be smart, reputable, effective -- and humble enough to stay out of the way. While some lawyers are notorious for grabbing headlines, most plaintiffs or defendants truly want great representation without worrying that the lawyer is making too much news.

Washington is a seductive city for people who crave public attention. Some people here live by the size of their clipping files, the number of hits their names get on Google, whether friends saw them on the evening news.

In a town where it seems that everyone once was the student government president or homecoming queen, the competition for headlines and public acclaim can be fierce, but also ruinous when played ineptly.

Media hounds should pay attention to the alpha dogs lurking in the shadows; those Big Dogs have little tolerance for noisy pups. One swipe of that big paw and the noisy pup is gone.

By Patricia McGuire  |  March 8, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Success from the sidelines Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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Mrs. Rogers is beautiful and very intelligent. This was her downfall in a city filled with ways to "bring a person down". I do not know the name of any person in this world who is perfect. Mrs. Rogers completed every area of her job. The naysayers are just a bunch of old fish too eager to make "glass ceiling" in any area of society.

Posted by: realitygirl2 | March 8, 2010 11:26 PM
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ms. rogers's clients aren't the people in the U.S. we pay her, but she was hired to handle the White House's social agenda. not mine. i've never seen her at my house planning a party or checking the guest list.

Posted by: frieda406 | March 8, 2010 11:19 PM
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I don't know the facts of whose responsibility it is to screen people and allow access, but I would think in occasions where the P.O.T.U.S. is,the Secret Service would be the best arm to monitor the security of an event. My comment has more to do with Mrs. Rodgers. I worked with her for about two years. I never met a more elegant and at the same time, unpretentious women. She is one of the best known socialites in Chicago. I think it is because she is very intelligent, beautiful and charming. I was a unimportant peon, yet she acted with grace and dignity without treating me like an underling. She is one classy person which leads me to believe why the Obama's wanted her for that position. Her detractors seem to sound a bit jealous or at least try to elevate themselves by being critical of her. I see some of the pictures of her in the Post with her big smile and it reminds me of what a genuine person she is. She didn't need the job or the attention, she comes from an important and respected family and her demeanor reflects that.I don't think it should be confused with self-importance. Thank you.

Posted by: farsnott | March 8, 2010 8:52 PM
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I find it bizarre that people think Desiree Rogers wanted to be in the spotlight. Most times events happen at the White House and I never heard much mention of her name (and I follow the media a lot). Granted for the Salahi case it was clear that after all the smoke cleared she'd be the one to take the fall. If anything she's guilty of lack of oversight and security at the State Dinner but not hardly quilty of being a spotlight hog.

Posted by: hapsutra | March 8, 2010 7:56 PM
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The Salahi's made it through because Ms. Rogers was not doing her job. I understand that she even had a seat at a table during the event. How can you oversee when you are sitting down? Ms. Rogers had her fifteen minutes of fame. She blew it. Bye Bye.

Posted by: bobbo2 | March 8, 2010 6:37 PM
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where's your pontificate?

Posted by: smartfunnygal | March 8, 2010 3:29 PM
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From everything I have read about this person and her direct quotes, I really believe that she was too full of herself and her comment about making the Obamas a 'brand' was way way over the top. Her alleged treatment of others in the office was out of line from my viewpoint anyway. she should have been handling business that night instead of inserting herself as a 'guest' at the event. Thank you.

Posted by: nancycrichton | March 8, 2010 11:40 AM
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"Desiree Rodgers made the fundamental mistake of making the tory about her, rather than her clients--the Obama's."

Her clients were in fact the people of the United Sates.

A thought that all those working in the Government should keep in mind.
But few do.

Posted by: travisg2 | March 8, 2010 10:24 AM
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