Park Perspectives: Becoming the LGBTQ leader and role model I wanted to be (and maybe never had)

By: Park Perspectives
Photo of students with Anderson Cooper with a ROMBA backdrop
Brian (far left) at the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conference with keynote speaker Anderson Cooper.

By Brian M. Balduzzi, Two-Year MBA ’18

Park Perspectives are authored by Johnson’s Park Leadership Fellows.

When I first realized that I was gay in 2004, I could not find role models or celebrity icons to emulate or idolize. Neil Patrick Harris did not quash rumors about his sexuality until 2006, Tim Cook waited in the corporate closet until 2014, and Trevor Burgess, though openly gay since his teenage years, did not become a CEO of C1 Financial until 2014. Ironically, Burgess’s SEC disclosure filing regarding his husband’s share ownership confirmed that he was the first openly gay CEO of a bank on the New York Stock Exchange. Growing up gay in the mid-2000s meant that I had to look to myself to be a role model. As I enter my early 30s and I finish my third graduate professional degree (JD in 2013, Tax LLM in 2014, now MBA in 2018), I reflect upon why accepting my status and membership as part of the LGBTQ community has made me a more compassionate, more resilient, and more passionate leader, and some lessons I learned along the way.

*Disclaimer: I try not to generalize for the LGBTQ community or any other under-represented minority; my experiences are my own, but I hope there is some universal truth to them.  

Lessons I learned along the way

I learned to be authentic.

This lesson was probably hardest for me to learn as an introvert. Great leaders need to be authentic. Teammates need to feel like they know and understand your character, values, and, even some of your experiences. By opening myself and explaining my need to prove myself in ways that some of my straight cis male friends may not have had to, I create an opportunity for people to emphasize with me and understand my actions.

I look for the larger impacts of my decisions.

I might be extra sensitive to this idea as a lawyer who went to law school in Boston just after Goodridge and during Windsor and Obergefell, but impact matters to me. Decisions, legal or personal, impact people, their lives, and their families. As a leader, I imagine how my group and my own actions might impact others and their lives and communities. I hope that my actions make the world a more accepting, agreeable, and productive place, a lesson I learned from looking at legal and political advocates in my early legal career.

I seek to collaborate and understand others.

When you grow up as part of a minority group, you learn that not everyone experienced or viewed the

Photo of students standing in an Instagram cutout that says: This is what inclusion looks like at Sage Social
Brian with other Johnson Out For Business (O4B) members at Gaypril Sage Social

world similarly to you. For many years, I did not know if I could ever get married so I never imagined a wedding. I was repeatedly told, even in 2013, not to come out at work. These experiences make me want to understand how others interpret and experience their worlds, but, more importantly, to collaborate through united visions and goals to create a better world. When you’re isolated from showing your true self as a leader and person, you believe that other people do not hold answers or help. I continue to grow towards embracing the diversity of perspectives on teams and within communities to understand that everyone has their own contributions.

I develop cross- and inter-disciplinary conversations and results.

Not to generalize too much, but LGBTQ people can be a pretty creative and innovative bunch. For so many years, we were told “no” to our lives, our families, and our leadership potential. We learned to craft unique narratives, unusual career paths, and creative solutions to our problems and roadblocks.

I’m still learning about my authentic self and leadership, but coming to Johnson has been an essential part of my journey. Collaborating with the Out For Business Board on Gaypril, networking and social events, and ally training has been an incredible experience. Planning the Reaching Out MBA Conference with students from across the country was inspirational and powerful. Helping with the Johnson Means Business Conference was an important opportunity for me to learn how under-represented minorities can work together to build and reinforce community within business school. I look forward to other opportunities after graduation to continue my leadership development, as I seek to live by my core values, my vision for a more accepting world, and collaborate to bring more individuals into the conversations.

Some final words of wisdom (for what they’re worth)

Reach across the aisle—and show people your authentic self.

Photo of Brian and 9 other people with bags.
Brian and the ROMBA student leadership team preparing for the 2017 conference.
(Credit: Instagram @Petitphua)

Too often, we are stuck in our small communities without taking the time to interact with others who have had different experiences. Johnson offers an opportunity for you to interact in an intimate and collaborative environment to meet people from all over the world, who, with an open mind and curiosity, seek to understand people of all backgrounds and beliefs. Take advantage of this setting to learn how to enjoy conversations with these people. You never know what you might learn!

Join a professional group, especially as an under-represented minority.

As business students, we are emerging professionals who can shape the future of our industries and communities. By joining a professional group, and serving on its board, we can provide much-needed insight into the breadth of diversity within these groups. We need your voice, we need your ideas, you deserve to be heard.

Mentor and become the role model that you wish you had.

I cannot go back and give 15-year-old Brian the role model that he so desperately wanted. I can only move forward and help others to feel less afraid and less alone, and more prepared for the opportunities that life can offer. As a leader, I can be open about my experiences, as a gay man, as a survivor of domestic violence, as a person with a disability. I hope that I can reach others who identify similarly or need someone who has ever felt different.

Use your skills to advance the cause.

We have incredible potential and resources as young people in business and within our communities. Use these skills to make the world a better place for everyone. Think about the impact that you want to have on the world, and how you envision yourself, your friends, your family, and others living together. Use what makes you different to make yourself and others stronger. Use your visibility to show that leadership can take many forms, many colors, many abilities, many beliefs, but all it takes is you standing up and wanting to be counted.

Link to learn more about the Park Leadership Fellows program

About Brian M. Balduzzi, Two-Year MBA ’18

Headshot of Brian Balduzzi

Previous Academic Institutions: State University of New York at Geneseo and Boston University School of Law
Previous Employer: Wilchins Cosentino & Friend, LLP
Internship: J.P. Morgan
Interests: Wealth management, law, theatre, volunteering