Dr. Kim Burns

In my opinion, one of the highest compliments you can give a woman is that she is a badass.

For instance, I was once plodding along in the woods of New Hampshire on my cross-country skis (sticking to the flat trails because I was terrified of hills), and a team of competitive female athletes whooshed my me in their matching outfits and athletic prowess. I watched them in awe and thought to myself, “Wow, they are badasses.” I’ve read most books written about Gloria Steinem, the iconic badass of the women’s movement.

In 2018, I drove with a friend to a random movie theatre 40 miles away to see the RBG documentary. I am inspired by women who live their values and persist in creating the kind of world they want to live in.

At work, I am similarly inspired by women who stay true to themselves despite being told they don’t fit the mold. This is the Latina in Student Affairs who puts Habla español prominently in her email signature. The staff person who tells an executive that their recent decision hurt marginalized students, and the faculty members who identify the high cost of textbooks as a roadblock for students and spearhead the creation of free, open educational resources.

What does it mean to be a badass leader in higher ed?

The women I consider badasses have many of the following qualities. They:

  1. Live their values and are deeply committed to the higher ed mission.
  2. Intentionally act (whether in small or big ways) to increase access and equity for the people who higher education was not originally intended for (i.e., anyone who wasn’t a member of the landowning gentry).
  3. Support other women, even when they are not in the room.
  4. Do the work that needs to be done, whether they get the recognition for it or not. A badass doesn’t take the path of least resistance.
  5. Put the needs of others ahead of their own (possibly to their detriment).
  6. Speak the truth.
  7. Care about others.
  8. Are self-aware and reflective.
  9. Are smart and curious
  10. Have a vision of what could be.

Tempered radicals are also people I admire. Tempered radicals are those who challenge dominant ways of thinking, call out injustice, and create change from the grassroots level. They are everywhere in higher education, which keeps life on campus interesting.

Despite these qualities, badass leaders are not immune to imposter syndrome and self-doubt. Women need the support of other women, especially when they start to think they are crazy and it’s just the system maintaining the status quo. Badasses need the support of other badasses. Women who have an inner circle of supportive female colleagues experience more success at work than women who have a mostly male network. We often feel alone when faced with challenges. I’ve seen firsthand in my group coaching program the magic created by women sharing their stories and realizing they are not alone.

If you are a badass working in higher ed and want to be in a community with other badasses, consider joining my new Badass Leaders in Higher Ed Community, a monthly opportunity to slow down, reflect and connect with women leading change on their campuses.


Schedule a 10-minute Q&A session with me to learn more.

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