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Courtney Rae O’Neal: “Look the part to get the part”

Look the part to get the part. The age-old phrase “do as the Romans do” has a lot of stock to it because every industry or space has subculture. And while I firmly believe that the concept of fitting-in is in part a mindset, there is value in how we present ourselves, as human beings […]

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Look the part to get the part. The age-old phrase “do as the Romans do” has a lot of stock to it because every industry or space has subculture. And while I firmly believe that the concept of fitting-in is in part a mindset, there is value in how we present ourselves, as human beings are visual creatures e.g. You can’t aspire to be a leader in finance and prefer to wear sweatpants to coffee meetups. Always be aware of your audience.


As part of our series about how to become known as a thought leader in your industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Rae O’Neal.

“Many women face the point in their professional lives or even personal spaces where they must choose between being pretty or being smart. As a little girl, I was encouraged at an early age that I was both; less from a space of vanity versus self-confidence. Black-and-brown women, particularly, are faced with this challenge in the workplace where you can’t be too smart without being a threat to essentially everyone; but the same goes for even being attractive. It’s honestly a joke. So, why not be both?!”

Courtney Rae O’Neal is a Thought Leader on Global Fashion; showing positive imagery that is informative and goes beyond color lines.

She says, “Style is not just about what we wear. Style transcends what we wear, into how we approach others or function.”

Imagine, interviewing in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office for an administrative position with the staff in awe of your interview look. Whether working in the policy space or as a politico, O’Neal quickly learned, “sometimes you have to look the part to get the part.”

Courtney’s career began in the political arena working behind-the-scenes, where she picked up real-world experience and developed insights about personal branding. But, serving as the executive producer of a daily lifestyle show is what sets her apart as a go-to for all things fashion & style, lifestyle, and business matters.

A “Driver of Results;” since 2015, O’Neal ensures her clients leave with an image/brand that they are empowered to lead within the public eye through her image consulting firm, Courted!

Watching the market, and forecasting trends allow O’Neal to empower clients through their personal style; in addition to change the landscape in which the term “style” is viewed. To O’Neal, “your image is the pre-cursor to the conversation;” therefore, using her platform to advance diversity and inclusion within the current climate is imminent.

Keeping her ear to the ground with what’s trending and happening in the news, this Multimedia Journalist understands and creates timely, emotion-provoking content that resonates with the everyday, conscious consumer such as “How To Help Teens Present Themselves to the World,” or “Fashion as Soft Power.”


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

I was born in Lexington, KY, raised in Atlanta, GA by way of Philadelphia, PA. And I have been a resident of the DC area for the last decade. I was brought to the area by my career which began in politics, first working for former President Barack Obama’s in 2008. Years later in 2015, that I launched Courted! while still working in politics, but after recognizing the power of influence in the business of fashion by people such as Fmr. First Lady Michelle Obama, to even myself who wasn’t a well-paid staffer but had to look the part of those around me — power and position.

Can you briefly share with our readers why you are an authority about the topic of thought leadership?

I have authority on this topic largely because I’ve spent my career helping other thought leaders sift and sort through their thoughts and words as a communications specialist, (inserts laughs) so one would think that along the way I would develop my thoughts too! Additionally, I have a unique perspective by having served a large part of my career in the policy space, which allowed me to see the U.S. uniquely, develop life-long cross-cultural relationships, and all through the lens of style and sometimes fashion.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I knew that style, my style mattered when I interviewed for an administrative position in the Speaker of the House’s office, who was then and is again now Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi. I do not think that the position had much to do with this story as I ultimately was not offered the position, but after the interview was over, I vividly remember sitting in the grandeur that is the most powerful Congressional member’s office and then having a conversation with the staff about my fast-fashion style choices that I decided to wear that day! I wore a cream petal dress sheath by H&M with cream-colored heels by Nine West, which at that time broke away from the traditional Capitol Hill standard interviewee dress code.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Sometimes being helpful will get you into trouble. I learned that trying to be helpful can get you into trouble, as backward as that may sound it’s also true. Sometimes it’s better to follow the instructions that you were given versus offering any other suggestions or support.
I learned this one night with a former employer who used to forget his briefing binder routinely. I tried to be helpful one night, by placing it on his briefcase where I thought he would see it better and he not only missed the binder again but also scolded me for being helpful.
This lesson came up again while working with an advertiser; because a clarifying question was asked on our end, the client wanted to review all of their content ahead of airing.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. In a nutshell, how would you define what a ‘Thought Leader’ is. How is a thought leader different than a typical leader? How is a thought leader different than an influencer?

A thought leader is someone who’s gathered experiences professionally, academically and personally and is willing to share the wisdom from their experiences with the world, and is willing to keep building upon those experiences because they’re a student of life.

I think that a typical leader is seen as a person who holds a position of power or influence in the business world or community and may not always appear as accessible as a thought leader.

An influencer oftentimes is a content creator who develops into a thought leader but gets their start more so in the social and digital media space.

Can you talk to our readers a bit about the benefits of becoming a thought leader. Why do you think it is worthwhile to invest resources and energy into this?

I think the benefits are relative. But the importance of being a thought leader is to share a perspective that others may not have or one that you feel the world is missing because we know that representation matters.

Let’s talk about business opportunities specifically. Can you share a few examples of how thought leadership can help a business grow or create lucrative opportunities?

I have accepted speaking engagements over the course of the last three years, that has come in the form of me serving as a panelist or even being asked to partner with other organizations to co-host events with thought leaders which have led to my image consulting firm developing new client relationships as well as business relationships with fashion designers. In short, you never know where an opportunity will take you, or how impactful your message will be on another individual or a group of people.

Ok. Now that we have that behind us, we’d love to hear your thoughts about how to eventually become a thought leader. Can you share 5 strategies that a person should implement to become known as a thought leader in their industry. Please tell us a story or example (ideally from your own experience) for each.

Use your platform to make your voice heard, and don’t turn down opportunities because you never know where the smallest one may lead you.
Associate with like-minded people and people within your industry or space.

Be fearless and humble. Fear will either propel you or paralyze you to move forward on your journey. As you grow continue to be humble enough to learn, but confident enough to remember what got you to where you are now. 
Follow your industry’s leaders online; broaden your social network. While filling up your timeline with your friends’ pet photos and baby pics is tempting, you will miss out on the trailblazers that you’d like to one day connect with or even be like by limiting yourself to only people within your friend circle.
Look the part to get the part. The age-old phrase “do as the Romans do” has a lot of stock to it because every industry or space has subculture. And while I firmly believe that the concept of fitting-in is in part a mindset, there is value in how we present ourselves, as human beings are visual creatures e.g. You can’t aspire to be a leader in finance and prefer to wear sweatpants to coffee meetups. Always be aware of your audience.
My experience has taught me that the application of these 5 steps will help you in becoming a thought leader in your desired space.

In your opinion, who is an example of someone who has that has done a fantastic job as a thought leader? Which specific things have impressed you about that person? What lessons can we learn from this person’s approach.

Bozoma Saint John would be one person that comes to mind. I’m impressed with her ability to take her career advancements and use them to her and her employer’s advantage. Through PR and strong work performance, Saint John has elevated herself and each company’s decision to hire her. This generally does not happen in the fashion that we see. Additionally, she has now partnered with iHeart Media and Katie Couric to host a podcast entitled “Back to Biz with Katie and Boz.” Saint John has chosen and not had to dim her light to continually grow and get to where she is.

I have seen some discussion that the term “thought leader” is trite, overused, and should be avoided. What is your feeling about this?

I think that it’s less trite than the term influencer.

What advice would you give to other leaders to thrive and avoid burnout?

Pace yourself. And in the words of Abraham Hicks to “don’t keep score too soon.”

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I want to of course solve the world’s biggest problems — ending racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia; eradicating poverty; eliminating disparities in healthcare, education, and access to clean water and healthy food.
But I also know that I alone cannot do those things even though they are in my heart.
I am passionate and think that I can give a voice to women of color who have plausible dreams; that face everyday challenges that most people don’t consider because in America and around the world we are still not considered human or even women like our white female counterparts. I can help tell our story. I have dealt with sexism, racism; had a #metoo experience, and dealt with microaggressive behavior from at times even people that look like me.
I have been told what I can and cannot do or what I can and cannot become; where I belong.
The problem that I wish to solve by way of a conversation about personal style, is to help others realize that we have more in common than we do different and that together we can actually affect change towards the future.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Listen more than you speak. Nobody learned anything by hearing themselves speak.” — Richard Bransen
This is a lesson that I share with everyone regardless of whether I’m public speaking or mentoring interns because oftentimes people talk too much. Listening is a necessary component to learning, identifying where value can be added and the make of a great leader.

We are blessed that very prominent leaders in business and entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world with whom you would like to have a lunch or breakfast with? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Master P

How can our readers follow you online?

@CourtedStyle | Instagram & Facebook

Thank you so much for your insights. This was very insightful and meaningful.

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