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Reviewed by:
  • Learning as a Way of Leading: Lessons from the Struggle for Social Justice
  • Terrell L. Strayhorn
Learning as a Way of Leading: Lessons from the Struggle for Social Justice. Stephen Preskill and Stephen D. Brookfield. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2009, 247 pages, $40.00

Scholarship in the field of higher education and student affairs has focused much attention on three critically important concepts: leadership, learning, and social justice. For instance, leadership has been conceptualized in a number of ways. Rarely has any serious treatment of all three concepts—leadership, learning, and social justice—been found under a single cover. This is the niche that Learning As a Way of Leading fills, at least in part. Learning As a Way of Leading, by Preskill and Brookfield, attempts to bring together leadership, learning, and social justice in a way that is decidedly different from previous books on the study of leadership. This volume highlights nine important learning tasks of leaders, each [End Page 569] illustrated through a portrait of a 20th century social justice leader who exemplifies the learning task that is the focus of their respective chapter. Analyzing the specifics of how, not what, these activists learned, the authors accent several key components of learning as a way of leading: a capacity to learn from experience and others, an appetite for new knowledge, and a readiness to question unexamined assumptions, to name a few.

In this most recent collaboration, the team explores an understudied form of leadership: social activism or what they call “leadership for social justice” (p. ix). And unlike those who write about conventional leadership, Preskill and Brookfield challenge the dominant paradigm of hierarchal leadership—that leadership must be serial, individual, and ruthless in its pursuit of desired goals to be effective. Rather they argue that leadership is collaborative, compassionate, and oftentimes facilitative. Yet, their main thesis is that effective leaders are those who lead by virtue of learning and by supporting other people’s learning, although they admit that this idea is neither original nor innovative as others have also defined learning as a key component of leadership. What may be original is how they illustrate these learning tasks using the stories of social activists.

The Preface briefly describes how the book evolved out of the authors’ scholarship on the lives of social activists, how the book is organized, as well as its general content and intended audiences. Chapter 1, then, sets forth their operational definition of leadership, juxtaposes the learning leadership (LL) model alongside five frequently cited models (e.g., servant leadership) that contribute to the idea that learning is a way of leading, and argues learning as central to the struggle toward creating a more just and equitable society. The chapter closes by identifying the nine learning tasks of leadership: learning how to be open to the contributions of others, learning how to reflect critically on one’s practice, learning how to support the growth of others, learning how to develop collective leadership, learning how to analyze experience, learning how to question oneself and others, learning democracy, learning to sustain hope in the face of struggle, and learning to create community.

Chapters 2 through 10 are geometrically organized around the nine learning tasks. Each chapter is divided into halves. The first half of each chapter defines and explains a particular learning task. Each analysis aims to address the same eight questions (e.g., definition of task, benefits of task), which comprise the analytical framework applied by Preskill and Brookfield (for more, see chapter 1). For instance, chapter 2 accents learning to be open to the contributions of others. By encouraging the unfettered airing of all perspectives, learning leaders and their co-laborers are able to suspend premature consensus, challenge conventional assumptions, and create dissonance, which can lead to creative possibilities and social change. Making the learning task the unit of analysis, rather than leadership as a broader construct, permits the authors to unpack the dispositions and capacities of effective leaders, which is, in part, the novelty of this volume.

Preskill and Brookfield also highlight a few challenges associated with practicing openness—for example, that openness implies wholesale acceptance of any and all perspectives...


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pp. 569-572
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