Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Leadership Brand and Executive Presence in the Virtual Realm

Remember the days when we could physically gather for meetings, programs, and events at work? I find myself longing for it as we’re about to “lap ourselves,” approaching month #11 in the COVID era.

Today, most of us are spending half or more of our time in a virtual space with clients, team members, and other colleagues. In this reality, communicating our unique leadership brand and presence requires us to be mindful of a whole new range of factors, to get creative, and tap into new and different resources in order to effectively and compellingly convey who we are… where often our “stage” isn’t much bigger than a postage stamp.

Back when we could gather in-person, we had a more accessible and dynamic environment and range in which to present our unique “essence.” It was just easier. By merely walking into a room, you could command attention and convey presence.

It all starts with knowing your personal leadership brand.

We’re not used to thinking of ourselves as a “brand.” Thoughts of brand more often conjure up images of our favorite coffee or shoes, the car we drive or the makeup we wear (remember makeup? :0 ). But even if you’ve never thought about your own personal brand, you have one. You’re “presenting it” everywhere you go…yes, even if you’re only walking from your kitchen down the hall to your office. So, why not take a more mindful approach and really be in charge of this brand! It’s just as important in the virtual environment as it is in-person and it requires knowing what works in that setting and making it work for you.

Start defining your brand by considering these questions:

  • What do I bring to the table? Think about your skills, talents, expertise, experiences.
  • What is uniquely me? What sets you apart? There’s no one else on the entire planet quite like you! What do people get with you that they don’t get with anyone else?
  • What is my brand promise? Think about what you deliver.
  • What do I stand for? Consider your core values and what matters most to you.
  • How do I want to be described? When you “leave the room,” what would others to say about you? What adjectives would they use to describe you?

Next, give thought to how you deliver your brand.

I think of delivering your brand as your presence, or executive presence – the “how” of presenting yourself. How can you present your brand most effectively to:

show up in the most impactful way,

accomplish your goals,

convey your key messages, and

achieve your aspirations?

In her book Executive Presence, Sylvia Ann Hewlett offers, “No man or woman attains a top job, lands an extraordinary deal, or develops a significant following without the combination of confidence, poise, and authenticity that convinces the rest of us we’re in the presence of someone who’s the real deal.”

In essence, Hewlett is saying you get there because you’re being purposeful and intentional about who you are and how you show up.

She lays out the key components of what comprise executive presence: gravitas, communication, and appearance. These elements help you take what’s uniquely YOU and unleash it in the world.


In short, gravitas is the ability to exude integrity, and confidence under the most pressing circumstances. It’s a combination of qualities that conveys you’re in charge or deserve to be.


As it relates to presence, effective communication is as much, if not more, about the “how” you communicate than the “what” you communicate.

Research shows that people pay the most attention to our nonverbal messages. In fact, up to 93% of your message is derived from how you say it.* 93%! This statistic drives home the need to pay attention to these elements of our messaging and utilize our nonverbal communication strategically for the greatest impact and connection.

“Strong communication skills are an accurate representation of whether you qualify as a leader or not,” says Hewlett. “You have a five-second shot to first engage with your audience after you meet them.” Make it count!

  • Pay attention to your body language and posture
  • Be human; let them see you
  • Read the people in the room and adjust your way/style as needed
  • Share insights through stories rather than abstract ideas.
  • Focus on the technical aspects of your speech, things like reducing filler words and controlling the pitch and volume


Lastly, Hewlett offers that your outward presence (clothing, accessories, hair, expression, etc.) shouldn’t distract people from your professional competence, but instead should emphasize it. “If it’s not adequate, you won’t hold their attention. It says, ‘I’m capable of and in control of presenting myself and, therefore, responsible to handle whatever else I am entrusted to do.’”

Hewlett highlights elements of appearance that include:

  • Being polished and groomed
  • Physical demeanor
  • Attire that positions you for your day…or your next job

Putting it together – Your brand and presence in the virtual realm

Specifically for the virtual realm, consider these tips to help you engage and successfully present yourself:

  • Position your camera where it’s at eye level and look directly at the video camera – not the people – to hold eye contact with your audience. It’s okay to look at the other faces in your video conference but do so only occasionally if you’re the one talking or presenting. Avoid camera angles that have you looking up or down in order to engage with your audience.
  • Pay attention to what your camera captures beyond you. Consider a virtual meeting practice with a friend to get feedback on what your audio and visual is communicating. Rid your physical environment of clutter, ensuring that it’s neat, tidy, and free of distractions as much as possible. Avoid camera angles that show half your ceiling and that distracting light or ceiling fan! You want your audience focused on you, be sure that your face – and other elements you want to communicate – is what fills your virtual tile.
  • Make your nonverbal communication work in your favor – practice good posture, avoid crossing your arms, and keep gestures to a minimum, utilizing for effect and impact to amplify your message, otherwise they can convey nervousness and anxiety.
  • Maintain a steady and assured voice. Have you heard of “up talk?” This is when the voice rises at the end of a sentence…as if asking a question. A string of up talk sentences kills credibility. As your talking, speak with confidence, with the arc of your voice starting at one note, rising in pitch through the sentence, and dropping back down at the end.
  • Convey a balance of confidence, competence, and authority with ease, warmth, and empathy. By nature, the virtual environment prevents us from connecting as much as we could if we were in person. It requires us to be mindful and get creative to build connection – it’s possible, it just requires more work. A few simple practices that make a big difference include: smiling, leaning in as someone speaks, nodding in agreement, using humor, staying relaxed, and asking questions of your audience that engenders ease and helps you build rapport and find common ground.


* Mehrabian, A. (1972) Nonverbal communication. Aldine-Atherton, Illinois: Chicago



Hi, I’m Jeanie Duncan. I work with individuals and organizations as a transformation partner to help them unlock their Truth, discover authentic value, and create meaningful impact in the world. I believe when we are truly aligned with our purpose, we can live and perform at our highest potential. With over 25 years of experience as an executive, CEO, consultant, coach, and writer, I offer strategic, knowledgeable, and experienced guidance for those who are ready to take the courageous leap toward true transformation. 


Evolving Your Leadership Brand

Evolving Your Leadership Brand

Your Leadership Brand - standing out from the crown- lightbulb
In my related blog post, The Brand of You, I introduced a framework around leadership brand, as well as a few tools and practices to help you think about and develop your leadership brand. To briefly recap – your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s not what you say…it’s what other people say about you that counts here.

You already have a brand whether you realize it or not, so it’s important to get conscious about it and proactively shape and define how you most want to show up and be seen in the world, influence others, and get results.

Here, we take the ideas one step further – from knowing and exhibiting your ‘current’ brand to considering your future, or ‘aspirational,’ brand. When you contemplate your career development path and goals, it’s important to realize that what got you here won’t necessarily take you there. It requires you to reflect on “if this is what I desire and where I want to go, then what needs to change or evolve in order for me to get there?”

Your Leadership Brand

Here’s an exercise to help you create your aspirational leadership brand: Think out to a future point – 6 months, 1 year, 3 years, 5 years – and envision that you have the most rich and fulfilling life you can imagine (both personal and professional). How might your current way of showing up and presenting yourself need to change or evolve in order for you to achieve this vision? Here are a few questions to guide your thinking:

  • What is the impact you most want to have on others or make in this world?
  • How would you define your purpose or intention?
  • Is this tied to a particular position or role you aspire to?
  • What top three things do you want to deliver?
  • What do you want to be known for?
  • What is your reputation?
  • How can your brand be boiled down into one bold, powerful, enrolling statement for you to use as your slogan or motto?
  • What action steps will you take to create your future brand?
  • Select two images that represent: 1) How are you known now. 2) How you would like to be known in the future. Post these in a place where you will see them every day.

In my executive coaching work, I partner with clients to help them define both their current and aspirational leadership brands. One recent example was with a nonprofit executive who held the role of COO in her organization and was an internal candidate for CEO.

She had held the COO position for ten years, was highly competent and experienced in her role, and well regarded by her colleagues. In preparing for her candidacy and the interview process, she needed to present herself in a new light, as the leader who was ideal to transition from leading a key organization function to leading the entire enterprise. It was helpful to clearly define her current brand as well as her aspirational brand not only for her benefit, but also to help the board of trustees and search committee visualize her as the right leader in this role.

She vividly imagined herself appointed as CEO and being in that role for a year, experiencing great success for herself, the organization, and its people. In doing so, she was able to define her future brand in a vivid, concise way. She compared this to her current brand and was able to develop specific actions needed to begin “acting as if” she was this future brand now. Her colleagues and the board were able to see her enhanced level of executive presence, influence, and confidence, which served her exceptionally well in the process, and was ultimately key in her being appointed as the new CEO.

Many people dismiss image building as superficial and unimportant; however, leaders benefit from knowing how they come across to others and how their behaviors impact different people. A lack of awareness and focus on this can derail or prevent leaders from advancing on their career path.

A study of 150 senior executives who attended CCL’s Leadership at the Peak program shows that the image, or brand, leaders convey has a significant correlation to perceptions of their leadership skill. In this study, leaders who conveyed a strong vision were rated higher on several important factors than those who conveyed a weaker vision – factors such as the ability to lead change, being dynamic, competence in strategic planning, being farsighted, inspiring commitment, being original, and having a strong executive image. Each of these factors is tied to specific behaviors and can therefore be improved through awareness and practice.

As in the CEO example above, once you identify specific elements for how you’d like to evolve your brand, seek out specific ways to practice in order to test drive and ‘anchor in’ new ways of being. Here are a few ideas, and you probably have some thoughts as well:

  • Lead a project that might be a stretch opportunity, demonstrating your ability to be seen outside the scope of your current image and brand.
  • Consider your area of expertise and seek out opportunities for public speaking where key influencers or stakeholders can see your leadership in action.
  • Take a more active role in speaking or presenting at board meetings.
  • Whenever possible, be seen as a strategic thought leader – to solve a problem, leverage an opportunity, etc.


You may also be interested in reading this related blog post: The Brand of You


Resources and Suggested Reading:

Criswell, C., & Campbell, D. (2008). Building an authentic leadership image. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Kossek, E. & Lautsch, B. (2008). CEO of me: creating a life that works in the flexible job age. Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Peters, T. (1999). The brand called you. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Schawbel, D. (2010). Me 2.0. New York, NY: Kaplan Publishing.


_MLH7017About Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.


The Brand of You: Your Unique Promise of Value

The Brand of You: Your Unique Promise of Value

The Brand of You, Unique yellow flower in Flower bed with purple tulips
Before we get into offering a few tools and practices to help you develop your leadership brand, let’s get clear on what we mean when we say “the brand of you.”

Your personal brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. It’s not what you say…it’s what other people say about you that counts here. What others convey about you is what creates your reputation, and it stays around a long time.

You already have a brand whether you are aware of it or not. With every behavior you exhibit, you’re making impressions on others, from what you say or do to how you react and interact – all of which can be an asset or a liability as you engage in the tasks and roles of leadership. It’s important to get conscious about it and proactively shape and define how you most want to show up and be seen in the world, influence others, and get results. The bottom line is, you can’t just rely on your skillset and expertise to be effective and get the job done.

So, the question is: “Is your brand what you want it to be?” The good news is everyone has a chance to stand out. And this is your opportunity to learn, grow your skills, and present yourself as you most desire. As you work on your brand, keep in mind that it is not about faking anything. It’s about surfacing and polishing behaviors and skills that allow your authentic, true self to be seen and be most effective. Think of it as starting today – you are a brand. How and for what do you want to be known?

Crack open a sense of possibility without limits. Think of your brand as your unique promise of value. It is your vision of who you are being and what you can do, bring, and deliver. It is a message that distinguishes you from everyone else by expressing what makes you unique and memorable. What brand are you today? Would you change anything about it? What will your personal brand be in a year?

Fortunately, you can have a great deal of control over the image others have of you. Laura Morgan Roberts of Harvard Business School puts it this way:

“People manage impressions through their nonverbal behavior (appearance, demeanor), verbal cues (vocal pitch, tone, and rate of speech, grammar, and diction), and demonstrative acts (citizenship, job performance).”

Crafting your image, or brand, requires you first to gain a clear picture of the image people currently perceive of you, then to decide what brand you would like to portray, and finally to develop the skills to close the gap. Let’s get started by having you explore a few questions as you consider your brand.

  • If your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room, what would your staff say? Consider peers, direct reports, and your boss. Don’t just stop at the office, but consider too what your spouse or partner would say. How about your children, siblings, and friends?
  • What is the brand for which you think you are currently known? (List a few adjectives to describe you.)
  • What is your unique offering, or what is it that you feel you uniquely deliver?
  • What are your distinct quirks, characteristics, qualities, or gifts?
  • What is the ‘look’ and ‘feel’ of brand YOU? A fun thing to consider: If you were a dog, what breed of dog would you be? Or if you were a car, what brand or model?
  • If you had a leadership brand tagline – think Nike and “Just Do It” – what would it be?
  • Is there alignment between your perceptions of what others think and your impressions of yourself? Ask for feedback.

You are in charge of your leadership brand, so invest in your learning and development as a leader. Think about your current job and your career path – how does your leadership brand support your work today? What 1 or 2 things might you tweak to help you be more effective? What do you need to learn or change to improve your leadership skills and impact?

A leader’s brand is constantly being created. Once you have taken a close look at your brand, the best strategy for crafting your brand is to practice. An effective leadership brand that seems instinctive or unconscious is very likely not. It takes skill and practice to be comfortable in your leadership role and have a brand to match. Here are some opportunities that permit you to practice behaviors. Can you think of others?

  • One-on-one meetings
  • Public presentations
  • Board meetings
  • Media interviews
  • Interacting in the hallway, cafeteria, or parking lot
  • Traveling with others on business
  • Events or locations outside of work

In closing, I challenge you to live your leadership brand. One of my life maxims is “Act As If.” Whatever you most desire your brand and image to be, go ahead and live into it. Eat as if, walk as if, sleep as if…you get the picture. Once you have defined that unique thing that is wholly YOU, integrate that uniqueness into all you do, say, write, and create. Don’t wait another minute to get started!


Resources and Suggested Reading

Criswell, C., & Campbell, D. (2008). Building an Authentic Leadership Image. Greensboro, NC: Center for Creative Leadership.

Peters, T. (1999). The Brand Called You. New York, NY: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.


brick closeAbout Jeanie Duncan: Jeanie is President of Raven Consulting Group, a business she founded that focuses on organizational change and leadership development in the nonprofit sector. She is a senior consultant for Raffa, a national firm working with nonprofit clients to lead efforts in sustainability and succession planning, executive transition and search. Additionally, Jeanie serves as adjunct faculty for the Center for Creative Leadership, a top-ranked, global provider of executive leadership education.