Dr. Kim Burns

Our success as leaders is easier and more fun within a community. Leading in higher education, especially these past few years, requires mental and emotional strength. When you are hanging out with people who energize you, support your ambitions, and are also working hard to be the best leader they can be, you will find more ease in reaching your goals and becoming the leader you envision. You also feel less alone.

Building a trusted community of like-minded, goal-oriented women is also key to closing gender and racial pay gaps (Rodgers, 2021; an affiliate link). An inner circle of women provides support and gender-specific job advice.

Your personal advisory board is your inner circle of people you go to for advice on advancing your career, handling complex situations, and pursuing new opportunities. These trusted colleagues and friends have your best interest at heart, may be in a position you aspire to, could be experts in an area you want to know more about, and are willing to give you honest feedback.

Whether you call it your squad, your inner circle, your personal board of directors, your back up singers, or something else (I recommend not using tribe in order to respect the significance of tribal identity of Indigenous people.), a network of support is important for your career success, leadership development, and sanity.

You probably already have a network of people who support you. Options to intentionally cultivate this group of fellow badasses include:

  1. Create a vision – write a description of your dream support group – who is in it? what qualities do they have? what does their support look like?
  2. Assess and strengthen the support you already have – who do you lean on when you need to brainstorm how to handle a tough situation or get assurance that you’re not crazy? What is it that these lovely people contribute to your life? Consider reaching out to them and tell them how important they are to you. Mail them a handwritten birthday card. Share a podcast that made you think of them. Find an excuse to connect.
  3. Identify and fill gaps – Are there any gaps in the support you need? Who in your network could provide you with the support you crave? For instance, do you need to connect with someone in your same position at a different institution to find out how they handle x, y and z? Who can you reach out to within your current network for a quick coffee over Zoom? Is there an affinity group at your institution or professional organization that can provide a community? Are there online groups to join that can add value to your life?

You can also create your own community. When I became a new parent more than 20 years ago, I was honestly perplexed at how I was supposed to navigate my new role as a mom and the familiar role of a college administrator. I yearned for connection with new parents, so I asked around at work and created an ad hoc new parents group (there happened to be a baby boomlet happening at that time, so there were lots of us navigating this new terrain). Now, I’m creating an online community of Badass Leaders in Higher Ed. This is a space for women college administrators to come together, share experiences of juggling the demands of work and home, while staying true to our commitment of making the world a better place through education. Interested in joining? Schedule a 10-minute Q&A session to learn more.

As always, connect with me on LinkedIn, send me an email, or connect with me on Instagram or Twitter. I would love to hear from you.


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