It may sound cliché, but we are living in fascinating times (and most people throughout history have probably proclaimed this same sentiment). It’s easy to look locally, nationally, and globally to examine the dark side of leadership (or what we perceive as the dark side). Our immediate thoughts may take us to the most obvious leadership display in the United States today – President Trump and the legislative bodies of the Senate and House of Representatives (who were, coincidentally, on full display Tuesday evening during the State of the Union address). But I’m not going to bite on such obvious and easy subject(s). Instead, I want to evaluate a less obvious leader (and one who may be off your radar), former President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.
In full disclosure, President Carter is on my radar because I’m teaching a Social Justice and Advocacy class, and in developing curriculum, I was excited to rediscover the Carter Center, President Carter’s foundation. “Founded in 1982 by former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and former First Lady Rosalynn Carter in partnership with Emory University, The Carter Center is committed to advancing human rights and alleviating unnecessary human suffering. The Center wages peace, fights disease, and builds hope worldwide.” I’ve known of the Carter Center for many years, but it’s been quite some time since I’ve acclimated myself with their human rights initiatives. And can I tell you, they are doing phenomenal things! Just last evening I showed a video to my class in which President Carter, on behalf of the Carter Center, presented at the TEDWomen 2015 conference. His message was specific to the global mistreatment of women – stating that it’s the number one abuse of human rights on earth.
President Carter, at 94, still teaches Sunday School every week at his church in Atlanta (fun fact my dad’s wife went to his Sunday School class just a few weeks ago). He still speaks at commencements, conferences, hosts forums, writes books and op eds, and travels by coach when he flies. In fact, President Carter returned to his hometown of Plains, Georgia, after leaving the presidency, and still resides in his original home – currently valued at $167,000. He has been married to his life partner, Rosalynn, for 72 years. I could go on and on about the integrity, humility, advocacy, and leadership of President Carter (you get the idea) but it isn’t necessary.
Would you believe, now that you’ve been reminded of this brilliant man with significant mission, that President Carter’s presidency was considered a failure? In fact, a good portion of the public was brutally critical of his leadership. He has even been labeled the worst ex-president. “Author Steven F. Hayward, who has labeled Carter the “worst ex-president” certainly thinks so. In his book, “The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry,” Hayward runs down the ways in which America continues to reap the legacy of Carter’s missteps, both during his presidential term and after.”
I admit, I was not aware of the critical things being written about President Carter – the accusations of mingling in foreign affairs, plagiarized material in his books, supporting communists, etc. Those who have their own negative impressions of President Carter – or who buy in to the negative written propaganda – will certainly believe that his leadership falls into the dark side realm. “The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership confronts this orthodoxy by illustrating how such approaches can encourage narcissism, megalomania and poor decision making on the part of leaders, at great expense to those organizations they serve.” And I’m wondering, is leadership, at its core, just a social construct…?
In instituting discourse as a method for establishing personal identity, it is relevant to recognize this as a form of social construction. Discourse, as talk and text within organizational contexts, is socially constructed and provides insight into the language used in different contexts. Social constructionism is founded on the premise that language creates reality.
Take for example the leadership style of President Trump. I am incredibly frustrated with his leadership style – hierarchal with little to no input from his advisors. He communicates via Twitter, fires subordinates who disagree with his direction, and uses his “Make America Great” rhetoric to stir up fear towards immigrants and refugees (among many other issues). Yet, his faithful followers LOVE him. They are passionate about his “great leadership”, his commitment to this country, and love his “in your face” approach. Where’s the leadership book that speaks to how effective Trump’s tactics have been? There isn’t one because the experts can’t possibly endorse such bad behavior. I, personally, am coming to terms with leadership as a social construct…
Even though a sect of people view President Carter’s presidency and ex-presidency as a failure, I am holding true to my belief that he was an excellent president and an even better ex-president. In my paradigm of great leadership, the character, integrity and demeanor of the leader is the essential quality. And did I mention that the Carter Center is changing the world, one human rights initiative at a time? Definitely not the typology of The Dark Side of Transformational Leadership. Check it out for yourself @ https://www.cartercenter.org/about/index.html. Warning, you may be INSPIRED!