We’ll never know the whole story, but at the inauguration of John Adams as second U.S. president, George Washington once again proved himself astute in the art of .
After Adams took the oath of office and gave a short inaugural speech, he bowed and left the room. Back on the dais stood the other two founding fathers: Washington, the outgoing president, and incoming Vice President Thomas Jefferson.
No one can say exactly what happened next, but Washington apparently signaled Jefferson that protocol required the vice president to join his chief outside and greet the people.
For his part, Jefferson was probably aware that the last one to leave would receive the biggest applause, so he motioned the Father of our Country to go next.
Washington, however, knew how to hold his ground. The record states that “Jefferson was obliged to leave the chamber first.”
“Then,” writes modern chronicler Gore Vidal, “slowly, majestically, Washington, having won his last victory in the Mount Rushmore sweepstakes, walked gravely out of the Federal Building and into the wildly cheering crowd, not to mention into the hearts of his countrymen forever.”
Business lessons: Stay aware of your surroundings to know when entrances and exits matter. Don’t rush headlong into any situation. Finally, learn when to defer ... and when not to.
— Adapted from Inventing a Nation, Gore Vidal, Yale University Press.
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