3 out of 4 stars
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An Uncommon Journey: Leadership Lessons from a preschool teacher who became a university president by Shirely Raines is a memoir detailing the author’s life from being born into a sharecropper’s family to becoming the first female president at the University of Memphis. The book mainly focuses on Raines’ experiences, right from when she starts out her career as a pre-school teacher and slowly climbs up the ladder to greater success, drawing inspiration from multiple sources, including her parents, colleagues, the church, and more.
Growing up in a family that had no idea how scholarships worked, Raines found that her father initially wanted her to even forgo the $300 scholarship she had been offered based on her academic ranking, only because he believed that she had not actually earned it. However, her mother visits the University of Tennessee to learn about scholarships and comes home and informs everyone that her daughter had indeed earned the scholarship and was destined to head to college. Raines attends college and thereafter begins her affair with education.
Having identified her love for teaching, Raines starts her career by initially teaching preschoolers, later progressing to teaching adults, and taking over administrative and leadership duties in prestigious institutions and dramatically improving their standing among their peers.
Raines knows how to learn to swim when thrown into the sea without warning and that is how she manages the various challenges that life throws at her at different stages of her career. For instance, when she is asked to take up the role of department chair of an institution she just joined—she ends up accepting the offer, even though she knows it would be a first for her.
While applying for the role of President at the University of Memphis, Raines does her homework and more and goes out of her way to learn everything possible about the university and the search committee members. The steps she takes to make herself more than fit to serve the role that she gets selected for are truly commendable. In the chapters following her appointment as University President, Raines talks us through the different challenges she faced in her role and how she overcame each one with her chin up. Her story is truly inspirational and is written in a way that would inspire other women to consider taking up leadership roles and have confidence to excel in them.
In all, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and there was hardly anything that I disliked about it. I thought it was interesting how the author took it upon herself to personally look into every little aspect of administration of the University, thereby managing to instill a sense of responsibility among others around her. Simple things that she did like stopping and picking up litter while walking across campus, instantly making everyone around her aware, is one such great example. The author also did a good job in explaining how giving people another chance to prove themselves and win over lost trust is sometimes really valuable; she puts this to practice and holds the person accountable in a way that he is aware that this is his one chance to win back trust and prove himself to his superior. The author also encapsulates leadership lessons from each chapter in short blurbs, making it really easy for us to take notes.
The only thing I could suggest for improvement here would be to make the writing more engaging. The chapters are all currently structured in one way—a challenge the author encountered in her career, followed by how she solved it. It is really interesting and inspiring initially, but when the same pattern follows page after page with no change of mood, it tends to get a bit too monotonous and tedious. The book, therefore, felt like a long-drawn-out documentary after a while. An alternate way to structure the book could have been to introduce the lessons first and then share anecdotes to go with each lesson, since the leadership lessons are what the author wanted to highlight in the book.
Overall, I rate this book a 3 out of 4 stars. I mainly rated it 3 stars due to the fact that the writing could have been more engaging and the presence of a handful of grammatical errors that I came across. Besides the errors, I found this book to be an enjoyable and inspiring read. I really admire Raines for showing the drive and courage to stand for all she believed in and serving every role with the greatest sincerity. I would recommend this book to readers who want to pursue a leadership role in life and are looking for a role model to guide them forward.
An Uncommon Journey: Leadership Lessons from a preschool teacher who became a university president
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