3 out of 4 stars
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Shirley Raines’ An Uncommon Journey: Leadership Lessons From A Preschool Teacher Who Became A University President is a memoir that doubles as a guide to leadership. We follow the author’s journey from childhood all the way to her appointment as the first woman president of the University of Memphis. Along the way, we receive tips and advice based on these experiences.
The author herself is a great example of the power of education, and this tremendous potential is precisely one of the things that make her so passionate about the field. She was a sharecropper’s daughter without expectations of even going to college. After earning a scholarship from the University of Tennessee, Raines graduates and becomes a teacher. She then goes on to direct a Head Start Program, get a master’s and a doctoral degree, and take leadership roles in universities.
There are fourteen chapters in total, the majority of which focus on the author’s years as president of the University of Memphis. Throughout the chapters, we see photos that illustrate particular events or people; they add a welcome layer of relatability. In the appendix, the book also provides notes and questions for reflection that make for a more engaging reading experience.
The book was written to inspire leaders, especially aspiring women leaders. By being introduced to the author’s stories, the reader gets a glimpse of the challenges and rewards of leadership, as well as the lessons learned along the way. In the final chapter, the author even mentions additional resources to aid the reader in deciding whether they’re fit for leadership and figuring out how to develop as a leader.
I disliked two aspects of the book. The first is that it’s somewhat dry; a more casual and conversational tone would’ve made it more engaging. The second is that the author spends quite a bit of time on minutiae that might bore readers not interested in higher education administration. For example, we read about various buildings that were built and renovated. While some of them offer opportunities to talk about broader leadership themes, others feel superfluous.
An Uncommon Journey is a great memoir that should be inspiring and informative to readers interested in leadership. It’s also exceptionally edited, as I’ve only found four minor errors. I rate it 3 out of 4 stars, deducting one point for the uninteresting details. There are no profanities whatsoever, making the book suitable for all audiences. I don’t recommend it if higher education doesn’t sound like an appealing subject to you since most of the book revolves around that.
An Uncommon Journey
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