Leadership Illuminates at TEDxBuffalo

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I’ve always felt a little bit like an oddball in the #UBMBA program. I’m a student with a history in the arts; I earned my Bachelor of Arts in cinema and screen studies and English literature at SUNY Oswego. That’s right, I’m the only #UBMBA film girl! But when I came to the University at Buffalo School of Management to pursue my Master of Business Administration, I was on a mission. I wanted to develop my leadership skills.


But upon arriving at the start of this #UBMBA program I didn’t actually know how to be a leader. When I walked into the program, the concept of a leader was a man or a woman at the front of the room with an expensive suit and a great poker face. The business leaders I envisioned of were a mix of Shark Tank and Mad Men. But my personal experience with leaders reminded me of the angry agents in Entourage and stereotypical diva-directors with funny accents. Was I supposed to put on a suit and forget how to smile? There seemed to be a disconnect.

I’ve spent these past two years juggling two different identities. Was I the creative woman with a background in cinema and screen studies and English literature, or was I going to become a corporate suit prepared to run a company, think strategically and analyze tons of graphs and data? In my mind neither of the references I had for leaders seemed very nice. How could I find a leader I wanted to aspire to be? Could I find a way to lead others who were passionate about the arts, or was I going to sell my soul to corporate?

 Passion = Leadership = Happiness

On Oct. 22, 2015, I was honored to be invited to attend TEDxBuffalo. If you’re not familiar with TED (and I immediately encourage you to watch a TED video after you’re done reading), TED believes in ideas worth spreading. TEDxBuffalo is an independently coordinated event (brought together through volunteers in the area) that hosts eight speakers and performers. This year’s theme was “Illuminate.” Eight speakers took the stage and each captivated my attention for very different reasons.

Now, when I first started the program, I thought I would have nothing in common with a “suit” in the front of the room. But to my surprise I didn’t see suits. I saw people. Each presenter (full list here) spoke ardently about an initiative, a thought or a belief. Some focused on education, others on arts. Tom Dreitlein, a spoken-word poet, delivered a passionate speech about a story not even his own, but that of a dear friend, and how he used his own voice to spread awareness. Rhonda Frederick, MPA, spoke on her leading nonprofit health and human services agency, which provides programs and services to individuals with special needs, their families and seniors throughout Western New York. These two speakers resonated with me in different ways. One, still an undergraduate at UB, in ripped jeans and a beanie hat, used an art form to spread awareness. The other used her kindness to bring happiness to others; she had a full suit, but spoke with a quiet voice. Suddenly the “suits” in the front of the room looked much more human and relatable.

How do I make leadership my own?

Illuminated. Inspired. Invigorated. Walking out of TEDxBuffalo, I felt an electricity that I wanted to harness. As a second year MBA, I see a lot of students hunting for jobs after graduation. Where did I want to go from here? I’ve used my time in the MBA program to develop my marketing skills and now I’m working to find the right fit for my voice and unique skills. But I don’t want to focus all of my efforts on finding the perfect job, because it simply doesn’t exist. Right now I’m searching for the right nonprofit or client project to attach my name to.

After TEDxBuffalo, I recognize the importance of chasing my passion over chasing a paycheck. Real leaders work on projects they care about and inspire other people to join in as well. On top of that, I believe leaders encourage their teams to speak up and share in the growth and development. While on campus I am serving as the marketing chair for the Class Gifts Committee and launching the website for the student philanthropy efforts–a first for the organization. I’m also serving as vice president of graduate marketing for Women in Management and working to create branded collateral for the organization in a three-year strategic initiative. Do you have a nonprofit or an initiative you’re passionate about? Have you considered volunteering?

I think one passionate person has a louder voice than just a scary person in a power suit. I also think that if you put that passionate person in the power suit or if you give the passionate person the stage like at TEDxBuffalo, great things can happen. I just applied for a strategic marketing manager position at the Sundance Institute–this might be the job for me. It combines my passion for film and the arts along with my marketing skills I developed in the MBA program!

Leadership can be found in a variety of places and UBMBA students are constantly pushing to become leaders of the community. You can learn more about leadership in the community by checking out our news.

Kimberly Behzadi is a second-year MBA student who specializes in digital content strategy and social media strategy. She’s a coffee addict, not by choice, but is a distance runner and Spartan Race competitor by choice. Her ideal date is always a fancy grilled cheese party with wine pairing. You can follow her Twitter at @zadizad or connect on LinkedIn by mentioning this blog post.

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