Why Image Matters When You’re A Leader


For many leaders, there is a disconnect between how they want to be perceived and how they actually are. Is that you?

Sylvie Di Giusto, the author of The Image of Leadership, says that as a leader, you need to both identify that gap and start taking steps to fill it.

Sylvie is the first to point out that there is only so much you can control about how you are perceived. “Your brand is not what people tell you to your face; it is actually what they say behind your back,” she stated. In addition, we all have unconscious biases that may influence how we see other people or even ourselves.

This is why a key component of Sylvie’s lessons is the idea of image. She tells leaders to look beyond what they are wearing and think about the cues and information they show with their bodies. In person, body language, appearance, and mannerisms all contribute to one’s brand.

Think about your “digital body language,” as Sylvie likes to call it. What is your online presence portraying – such as your LinkedIn profile and website – if you aren’t really saying anything to your audience? What comes up when someone Googles your name? How do you show up in virtual meetings?

Your leadership image starts by deciding the brand role you want to build for yourself. “You are the most important person in your career,” said Sylvia. “If you are not in the driver’s seat and if you don’t control how you are perceived by others, somebody else will do it.”

Sylvie shared three traits with me that will make defining your brand role as a leader easier.

The first trait is respect. “Really successful leaders, in my opinion,” added Sylvie, “behave and communicate with respect.” Sylvie pointed out that, first and foremost, these types of people have respect for themselves. Successful leaders also have respect for other generations, cultures, and global environments. Respect is the entry fee to a great professional and leadership brand.

Professionalism is the second quality. Depending on your workplace and industry, this idea might look different, but effective leaders act in accordance with expectations. The latter is exemplified by confidence. “We expect leaders to be confident, not just in their appearance, but also in their behavior, their communication, and the decisions they make.” If you are not professional in every one of your interactions or exchanges, don’t expect people to judge you with a great professional brand.

The third trait is leading by example. “Often, I work with leaders who share stories about their employees appearing, behaving, and communicating, online or offline, not in the way they wish,” offered Sylvie. She points out that leaders have to first examine their behavior. “You are setting the tone. Everybody is looking at you.” In sum, if you want an excellent leadership image, you had better play the part – all the time.

These three qualities can be difficult to exhibit in a virtual workplace, but during online meetings, leadership image is more crucial than ever. “There are instruments and tools we can use to do some things better and more effectively in a virtual environment,” she said.

Sylvie encourages leaders to be careful of negativity bias. Unfortunately, our brains are hard-wired to register the negatives more easily than the positives.

As a leader, people are likelier to see and remember your mistakes than the good things you do. They’ll notice the clutter in the background of your Zoom call or that you constantly struggle to unmute yourself. These virtual tools are no longer new, so the understanding, patience, or grace that people extended during the start of the pandemic no longer exists. In this way, your digital footprint comprises both your intentional and unintentional actions.

People are more likely to notice and recall your mistakes as a leader than your positive actions. They’ll notice the background noise on your Zoom call or the fact that you have trouble unmuting yourself on a regular basis. The understanding, forbearance, or grace that people showed at the beginning of the pandemic no longer exists because these virtual tools are no longer novel. In this way, both your intentional and unintentional actions leave a digital trail.

“In addition, if you have good news to share, I would always encourage leaders to bring them into a room.” The emotional connection that in-person communication allows adds to the positive experience.

In conclusion, both big and small decisions you make can shape how others perceive you as a leader. Do your actions reflect the impression you want others to have of you? Sylvie Di Giusto definitely thinks so.

Watch the entire interview below with Sylvie Di Giusto and Dan Pontefract on the latest episode of Leadership NOW.


Check out my award-winning 4th book, “Lead. Care. Win. How to Become a Leader Who Matters” Thinkers50’s #1 rated thinker, Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard Business School, calls it “an invaluable roadmap.” Publishing in October 2023, a new book, Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team that Flourishes, (You won’t want to miss digging in.)