What makes a leader?

Meaning what forms them? Are they born with leadership qualities, or does experience propel them into leadership?This question has captivated scholars for decades.

In my attempt to provide my angle on this question, I’ll look at one individual, Jimmy Carter and posit that while a certain disposition and possibly ‘genes’ may contribute to one’s leadership abilities, maybe education and experience more than anything makes a leader who they are. But firstly the not so rosy part – from the horse’s mouth:-

Jimmy Carter’s Biggest Failure as President via bigthink

To me besides knowing what he considers to have been his successes or failures, what’s really interesting, at least in as far as experience is concerned, is Carter’s background:-

Jimmy Carter is the 39th president of the United States. He was born in 1924 in the small farming town of Plains, Georgia, the son of a peanut farmer. He received a bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy in 1946. In the Navy he became a submariner, serving in both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets and rising to the rank of lieutenant. Chosen for the nuclear submarine program, Carter also took graduate work at Union College in reactor technology and nuclear physics. In 1946, he married Rosalynn Smith. When his father died in 1953, he resigned his naval commission and returned with his family to Georgia, where he took over the Carter farms and became active in the community, serving on county boards supervising education, the hospital authority, and the library. In 1962 he won election to the Georgia Senate. He lost his first gubernatorial campaign in 1966, but won the next election, becoming Georgia’s 76th governor in 1971.Carter served as president from 1977 to 1981. During his presidency he negotiated a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel, signed the Camp David Accords and the SALT II treaty with the Soviet Union, and established diplomatic relations with China. On the domestic side, the administration’s achievements included a comprehensive energy program conducted by a new Department of Energy; deregulation in energy, transportation, communications, and finance; major educational programs under a new Department of Education; and major environmental protection legislation. He lost his reelection in 1980 to Ronald Reagan, in part because of the Iran hostage crisis, in which 52 U.S. citizens were held hostage by Iranian revolutionaries who overthrew the government.   In 1982, he founded The Carter Center. Actively guided by President Carter, the nonpartisan and nonprofit Center addresses national and international issues of public policy. In 2002, Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize “for his decades of untiring effort to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy and human rights, and to promote economic and social development.”

[Source: bigthink.com]

Ok, so

(i) He was in the Navy – where he rose to become a lieutenant. This entailed some travel around the world, where he experienced different cultures and different ways of life. He was also very principled. According to his biography entry on the Miller Centre here:

…Carter worked long hours while his wife worked at home raising the children. Lieutenant Carter selected the submarine service, the Navy’s most hazardous duty. One incident during this time clearly illustrated Carter’s values and beliefs. While his submarine was moored in Bermuda, British officials there extended a party invitation to white crewmembers only. Partly at Carter’s urgings, everyone on the submarine refused to attend….

(ii) He’s worked in agriculture, the family business, where he gained immense experience, and turned the business into a success. According to a Wikipedia entry:

Carter is the only U.S. president to have lived in housing subsidized for the poor. Knowledgeable in scientific and technological subjects, Carter took over the family peanut farm. The transition was difficult, as the harvest his first year failed due to drought and Carter was forced to open several lines of credit to keep the farm afloat. Carter took classes and read up on agriculture while Rosalynn learned accounting to manage the business’ financials. Though they barely broke even the first year, Carter managed over the following years to expand and become quite successful

(iii) He was active in the community, so he genuinely cared about helping people, other than his own ambitions.

(iv) He has served on various boards – supervising education and healthcare – gaining more experience

(v) He became a senator at State level, so had an opportunity to hone his political skills much closer to home.

(vi) He lost his first stint at becoming a Governor of Georgia – something which must have provided him with more experience, in terms of what works and what doesn’t. That defeat must have had a role in shaping the future Carter.

(Vii) Became Georgia’s 76th governor, this being his second try. Where he instituted reforms that cleaned up the mess. The Miller Centre profile again:

But his primary concern was the state’s outdated, wasteful government bureaucracy. Three hundred state agencies were channeled into two dozen “superagencies.”

The point most probably being spotting the synergies and realising economies of scale.


Similar Links

Asking Whether Leaders Are Born or Made Is the Wrong Question – Harvard Business Review

Jimmy Carter Author Page – Amazon.co.uk

American Experience: Jimmy Carter


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