The many lessons we can learn in life and business from Jimmy Carter

The Communicator

Former US president Jimmy Carter

Gina London

When I was a very little girl, the things I knew about then-US president Jimmy Carter were that he had been a peanut farmer from Georgia, had a sweet, lilting sounding Southern accent and had a little girl around my age, named Amy.

Cut to one of my first years working in television news in Washington, DC in which the now former president was set to appear as a guest on our morning show. I went down into the green room to meet him. He was there on his own, without his beloved wife Rosalynn, and only one security detail member attending him. He stood to shake my hand and stretched his lips effortlessly to create that broad, heartfelt and well-known toothy smile.

“You’re from a small farming town in Indiana?” he beamed after I told him about my rural roots. “I grew up on a peanut farm in Plains, Georgia.”

As if I didn’t already know. It was a blend of kindness, curiosity and humility which stood out then and which, I firmly believe, remains as a testament to his exceptional leadership character, as I read this past week that, aged 98, the oldest former US president has entered hospice care.

Unlikely paths can lead to success

From his unassuming start on the Georgia peanut farm, Jimmy Carter travelled northeast to graduate from the Naval Academy in Maryland. He later served in Georgia’s state senate and was governor between 1971 and 1975. But he was an unknown national figure when he threw his hat into the presidential ring the next year. Embracing that, he hilariously had campaign buttons made which proclaimed: “My name is Jimmy Carter and I’m running for President.”

Surprising many, he won. The 39th president of the United States. So, I’ll stop here and ask you: “What promotion, job or career are you dreaming of?”

Do you think you’re not worthy or not ready? Is negative self-talk holding you back? I encourage you to be brave. Raise your hand. Fill out the application. Put yourself forward.

Different approaches can yield different results

“But, Gina,” you may be thinking, “Jimmy Carter was only a one-term president.” You would be correct. He was beaten in a landslide the next term by governor of California and former film actor, Ronald Reagan.

But not before successfully brokering the first ever Middle East peace deal. The Camp David Peace Accord, as it was called, was signed between Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat and Israel’s prime minister Menachem Begin in 1978 after 12 days of secret meetings facilitated by Carter. To me, the lesson from this is not only the unprecedented outcome but the way the deal was negotiated. Quietly, without attention grabbing, pre-event heralding or fanfare. Sometimes you need to put your hand up. Sometimes you need to keep your head down. Get busy. Forge relationships. Do the work.

Your professional life offers many chapters

The accomplishments of this farmer from Plains, Georgia continued after he left the White House. In 1984, during a speaking engagement in New York City, the now former president passed a build site of the not-for-profit organisation Habitat for Humanity. Carter noticed the site appeared to be experiencing a shortage of volunteers and pledged to help.

Since then, he, along with Rosalynn (whom marrying he described as “the pinnacle of my life”), became ambassadors for the charity. They have worked alongside the now hundreds of thousands of volunteers across the US and abroad. According to its website, Habitat has “helped 6.8 million people achieve strength, stability and independence through safe, decent and affordable shelter”.

An executive director for one of Habitat’s Massachusetts affiliates said this about Carter working on sites: “It wasn’t a photo-op, it wasn’t a press issue for him. He was dedicated to hands-on doing the construction. He was there first. He was there last. He was engaged all day long.”

What is your level of steady commitment? Are you burned out? Are you considering or already guilty of “quiet quitting”? Maybe it’s time for a refresh. What can you discover that will reignite your passion? Imagine if Carter had walked by that New York work site and kept going without saying a word. What if he hadn’t followed up to volunteer?

He was president for four years. He has been a Habitat for Humanity ambassador for 40. What might be your next chapter?

Guard the values which guide you

The last character trait I respect Carter for and want to share with you is his integrity. A third-generation Southern Baptist and deacon, in 2009, Carter sent an open letter severing ties with the Southern Baptist Convention over its continued stance of, in Carter’s words, “discrimination of women and girls in a twisted interpretation of the word of God”.

Yet Carter continued to go to church and teach Sunday School until as recently as three years ago. He may have renounced the organisation, but never his faith.

As we go about our lives and this honourable man is preparing to depart his, I want to spend a moment remembering and celebrating his legacy. While he was a leader of a nation and we are not, there are many of his attributes to which we can aspire and adapt.

​Write to Gina in care of With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon