During the festivities for the presidential inauguration of Donald J. Trump, Trump’s wife, Melania–the new First Lady–approached Barack and Michelle Obama with a gift in a blue box. She handed it off to the former First Lady, who…well, let’s just say the Internet had some new fodder.
What exactly happened?
Mrs. Obama awkwardly turned here and there with the box, looking very briefly at the news cameras. As Cavan Siecskowski of The Huffington Post reports, her expression quickly went viral, with people on Twitter and other platforms captioning the image and making jokes. They guessed what was in the box and speculated that Mrs. Obama was less than happy to get the First Lady’s present, but there’s a simple, social-construct-based explanation for what happened, too.
First Lady Trump was absolutely in the etiquette right to present a farewell gift to the Obamas, and Mrs. Obama did try to show thanks. But Mrs. Obama had a dilemma, too. Etiquette says to hold onto a gift and not immediately set it aside, but the arrival of the Trumps also was a major photo opportunity for the press. Mrs. Obama thus was in an uncomfortable position, because although she technically should have held onto the gift, she also needed to get it out of the way for a more poised picture of the two families.
As the Trumps learn, you can, too
First Lady Trump’s gesture was wonderfully kind and speaks well of her apparent desire to bring graciousness into the White House. But it also holds some pretty significant lessons for anybody in business:
1. Think ahead.
With a little better planning, the First Lady could have delivered her gift at another time when it was easier to set aside with more leisure.
2. Mistakes are okay.
Both President Trump and the First Lady are new to the political scene. This small “mistake” thus likely isn’t going to be the last. And you’ll probably make tons of errors as you grow your career or business, too. The key is just to look back at what happened so you can avoid those same mistakes, seeing your blunders as learning opportunities.
3. Everybody is going to have an opinion, but you’re in the driver’s seat.
People are entitled to their thoughts when awkward moments happen. But at the end of the day, you’re the one who has a choice about how to react to what’s said about you and your business. None of the parties involved let the moment ruin the day. They got past it and moved on.
4. It’s okay to take help when you don’t know what to do (and to offer help, too).
When Mr. Obama realized his wife was in an awkward position, he didn’t leave her out to dry. He thought on his feet, took the box and handed it off to someone inside. If, like Mrs. Obama, you’re in a situation that’s less than optimal, setting aside your pride for some assistance might yield results that are better or more efficient than what you’d get working alone. And if, like Mr. Obama, you see someone in trouble, sometimes lending a hand will keep operations running smoothly and, ultimately, benefit everybody.
No one knows for sure how successful the Trumps will be during their time in the White House. But each day is a new day. Whether you work in the White House or your home office in your jammies, that’s worth remembering.