Former U.S. President and Emory Distinguished Professor Jimmy Carter, who is known for his active post-presidency work in human rights and peacemaking, discussed leadership and overcoming failure at the Carter Center on Feb. 13.
Carter advised a group of about 300 Oxford College students that overcoming the fear of failure is crucial to success. Though the 39th president failed to secure a second term in the White House, he said he made the best of the setback by starting his work at the Carter Center.
Similarly, he asked the audience members to re-conceptualize how they viewed past events, suggesting that few outcomes could truly be labeled as a “success” or “failure.”
Carter also pointed to the 1987 Camp David Accords as an example of a “partial success.” Though he failed at achieving a definite peace for the Palestinians, he brokered a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel.
Carter’s advice about dealing with failure came after a discussion about the importance of learning to overcome setbacks to be an effective leader. Oxford College Dean Douglas Hicks, who also spoke at the event, said Carter’s work with the Carter Center often qualified him as “the most successful ex-president.”
Carter urged students to aim high. He said the Carter Center never would have achieved its current successes if its 1988 International Task Force for Disease Eradication had set more conservative goals.
“We adopted five diseases in the world to eradicate knowing that we couldn’t succeed at [eradicating] all of them, but we’ve gotten very close,” Carter said.
Carter concluded that his optimistic mindset, along with ongoing support from his wife, Rosalynn Carter, allows him to continue working despite temporary setbacks.
“I think what we’ve done at the Carter Center equals what I did as president,” Carter concluded.
When asked about the other qualities of a good leader, Carter emphasized the importance of staying true to moral principles, rather than focusing purely on public opinion. For example, Carter said he could have declared war with Iran to win re-election, but he did not want to sacrifice his belief in peace for the sake of another term in office.