Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The servant leader

I'm taking a very enlightening leadership course this semester at LSU, and one of our latest assignments was to write a paper about a current leader who inspires us. It took me a long time to decide on my paper subject(Oprah Winfrey? Bill & Melinda Gates?), and I guess the lack of obvious candidates was depressing me a little. Then I attended a book swap meeting with some work colleagues and had an interesting conversation with my beloved retired friend Anne.

Anne's been traveling fairly extensively since leaving the world of 9 to 5 and out of all the places in the world she could have set off for first, she choose Plains, Georgia for the sole purpose of attending one of Jimmy Carter's Sunday school classes at the Maranatha Baptist Church. She suggested that I look into Carter's post-presidency philanthropy work for leadership inspiration. Hmm... As a political science major in college, I was perfectly aware of Carter's missteps and unpopularity during his tenure as U.S. President, and this reputation didn't exactly seem to jive with the traits of successful leadership I'd been learning about all semester. But, I did admire the good works that President and Mrs. Carter have done for Habitat for Humanity International so I decided to delve a little deeper.

I ended up really coming to admire and be inspired by Jimmy Carter career as an ex-president. Not only has he published almost 20 bestselling books, but he has used his stature and resources to found The Carter Center, a non-profit organizations dedicated to alleviating human suffering through fighting disease, promoting democracy, and promoting the peaceful resolution of conflict. Carter has traveled the world on the behalf of The Center to ensure free and fair elections in emerging democracies and to promote various humanitarian efforts. Now in his 80s (the same age as our grandparents!), Mr. Carter recently joined a prestigious group of global statesmen, including Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, and Nelson Mandela, who call themselves The Elders. The mission of The Elders is to contribute wisdom, independent leadership, and integrity to tackling some of the world's toughest problems humanely, and their first mission was to Sudan to consult with community leaders in Darfur and share their concerns with the world.

Not content to merely bask in the glory of being one of the few former leaders of the free world and receive hefty paychecks by giving speeches, Carter continues to practice what he preaches and preach what he believes to make the world a better place. And he does it all with a servant leader's optimism and determination. Inspiring, indeed.

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