In his ninth year: Keenum shares leadership perspective with SEC Fellows as MSU’s top Bulldog

MSU President Mark E. Keenum said integrity, courage, persistence and teamwork are among essential leadership characteristics in remarks he gave to faculty members from throughout the SEC participating in the Academic Leadership Development Program workshop hosted at MSU Feb. 22-24. (Photo by Russ Houston)

Contact: Allison Matthews

STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State President Mark E. Keenum welcomed faculty members from throughout the Southeastern Conference’s 14 institutions of higher learning Wednesday [Feb. 22], sharing leadership lessons from his presidency and previous career roles.

The SEC’s Academic Leadership Development Program Fellows convened on campus Wednesday for a three-day workshop. Each year, the program identifies up-and-coming academic leaders to prepare and advance to key roles within SEC institutions and beyond. MSU has four fellows currently participating in the program.

“Over the years of my career both in academia and serving in the legislative and the executive branch in Washington D.C., I’ve been blessed to have a chance to work with and see up close some of our nation’s most prestigious leaders and how they operate and make decisions,” Keenum said.

Also serving a two-year term as president of the Southeastern Conference, Keenum commended the guests for leadership work they already are providing at their respective universities. Giving his audience what he called a “Cliff’s Notes version” of the honors leadership class he has taught since returning to MSU in 2009, Keenum shared several traits and characteristics he said can help the SEC’s aspiring leaders as well.

First and foremost, he said trustworthiness is a key characteristic for a successful leader.

“How many of you want to follow someone you don’t trust? None of us do,” Keenum said. “Integrity is an absolute must for successful leadership.”

He said strong leaders have a vision and are able to communicate clearly with others, as well as motivate their teams and be “eloquent listeners.”

Keenum listed courage and calmness all as desirable leadership traits. He said persistence is an integral principle of leadership.

“As a rising leader, you’re going to take on more challenges. When you hit those bumps in the road….you can’t get down. A leader has got to just persevere through the tough times, and there’s going to be a lot of tough times,” he said. “You keep your chin up.”

He emphasized the importance of teamwork, adding that leaders should be humble and always acknowledge the contributions of team members. He also said the simplicity of good manners is like “magic,” and he recommended frequent use of the words “please” and “thank you.”

Keenum said the best leaders treat everyone with respect and dignity.

“I know you’re always going to be nice to the provost or the president when you see them walking down the hall or coming into your office, but how are you going to treat the person that comes in to clean your office? Are you going to treat them with the same equal respect and dignity? I hope the answer is ‘yes’ because that tells a lot about you and your character,” he said.

The most important thing a leader does is make decisions, Keenum said.

“You have to be decisive. You’re going to be put under the gun – you have to say ‘yes’ or ‘no,’” Keenum said, but before making important decisions, he advised, “get the facts.”

“That sounds so simple, and it is. Get the facts, but don’t get hearsay and don’t get rhetoric…get objective facts,” he said.

Keenum said the ALDP Fellows are working in a noble profession.

“You’re affecting the lives of the next generation of leaders,” he said.

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