Nothing Is Routine: A Leadership Insight from Dr. Donald Zacharias

“Nothing is routine when dealing with the lives of other people.”
Dr. Donald W. Zacharias (1935-2013)
President Emeritus, Mississippi State University

Nothing Is Routine: A Leadership Insight from Dr. Donald ZachariasDr. Donald Zacharias was the president of my alma mater, Mississippi State University, during my student years. He was a model of effective leadership, masterful communication, and committed relationship-building. He died early on March 3, 2013, after a long struggle with multiple sclerosis.

Because of a generous first-of-its-kind donation to the university, a new full-ride academic and leadership scholarship program was created at Mississippi State just as I became eligible to apply for it. As incoming freshmen and the first recipients of this scholarship, three other students and I met monthly with Dr. Zacharias during our college careers. We discussed issues such as trends in higher education, leadership skills and techniques, American cultural developments, student life on campus, and even politics and philosophy. We met distinguished guests and alumni of the university and got to interact with and learn from them – people like John Grisham, Dave Swalm, Congressman Sonny Montgomery, and many others.

Those were great years for students, but they were turbulent years for university leaders. Court cases affecting all the state universities were constantly in the news. Dr. Zacharias led my school with bold vision and impeccable character. He was a great leader, mentor, and friend.

One of his exceptional and amazing qualities was his ability to make every person he spoke to feel like the most important person in the room. Why? The quote at the top of this page illustrates at least part of his motivation. Other people’s lives were influenced not just by legislation, administrative policies, or capital fundraising. You deal with people’s lives every time you interact with them. To him, every interaction was a unique opportunity to teach, to learn, to lead, and to grow.

Dr. Zacharias exuded respect for others, and as a result, he commanded it from others as well.

Do the people with whom you live, work, and play know how much you respect and value them? Why not?