Sankwich: Emerging Leaders Taught Me How to Build Leadership Presence

Jeremy Sankwich addresses the Emerging Leaders crowd.

My first job out of college was as an international sales manager for a rescue tool manufacturer.  Part of my role was a manufacturer’s rep, providing trainings and demonstrations to military personnel in Asia and the Middle East.  As a young man, these were opportunities rich with valuable experiences, as I was interacting with highly skilled and developed leaders.

During one such trip, I was in Saudi Arabia with the owner of my company, Tim, teaching structure collapse to a group of military leaders, including a general.  Tim is a US Navy Veteran – a retired nuclear submariner with 25 years experience in the fire service.  Our distributor did their best to keep the attention of the general and his officer, who seemed distracted, like it was a waste of their time.  But then, something changed when Tim began to speak.  The General became open, engaged and began asking many different questions.  He had respect for Tim.  What was different?  What did Tim have that neither our distributor nor I had? 

At the time, I called it a leadership presence.  Tim’s background, success and honesty earned him such a presence with important people.  I simply assumed that one day, maybe I could obtain it once I had grey hair or a storied background of accomplishments, too.

It was not until Emerging Leaders that I began to learn about the practices required to develop leadership presence.  One does not need a military career, medals and titles.  Through the Emerging Leaders program I have learned three principles that allow anyone; regardless of title, position, gender, age, race and yes, even hair color, to fully develop and fully utilize their own leadership presence.

Be Prepared

We are more consistent and aligned with what we say we are, when we are prepared. Don’t just react to life.  Have a commitment.  You can see more possibilities when you are proactive which also makes you a more efficient leader. Aligning your values with your actions requires preparedness and intention.  So be intentional and write down, on paper, what you are committed to as a leader.  This is called an organizing principle. 

One of the first exercises in Emerging Leaders was this, to craft an organizing principle that defined who we aspire to be as leaders in our credit unions. Mine is:

“I am a commitment to leading by example, helping others discover their strengths, and to setting goals then smashing them.”

Be prepared, write your own organizing principle and commit yourself to live by it each day.  This is the first step to unlocking and fully developing your own leadership presence. 

Be Present

You’ve been there before.  You are in a meeting and there are two types of people.  One looks down at their phone or iPad each time it pings for a new email. They disengage each time if only for a moment to read the subject line.  The other person is listening to whoever is speaking with their eyes and their presence, engaged with the meeting in how they respond and react.  One has a leadership presence in that meeting and one does not. 

Great leaders are present.  They are aware of themselves and others.  They make others feel important by how they give their undivided attention. When you ask people around your company who the most effective leader is, often times it is this person they point to.

Throughout the three Emerging Leaders sessions, we learned about a model called MCS or Mutual Commitment to Success.  The MCS model only works if you listen to someone’s request, ask clarifying questions and ensure there is a clear definition of success before promises are made.  Susan Geear says, “If we are not present as leaders, there will be miscommunication and there will be breakdowns.” 

Being present allows others to trust you.  It is the foundation to having successful relationships and establishing a greater leadership presence.

Be in Choice

Let me return to Saudi Arabia.  We went back to the hotel after the presentation and debriefed about the entire meeting.  At the end I asked Tim if he could teach me to be a leader and an influencer like him.  His response was simple, he said it in 3 words: “Act the part.” 

Being in choice is about aligning preparedness and presence through action.  You choose who you are and how you show up.  You choose how you react; will it be inside of your organizing principle or will it be contrary to it?

Your actions are your audition.  Don’t wait for a “title” to act like a leader.  Leadership presence is not reserved for those with titles. Rather titles often follow those with a strong leadership presence. Josh Sidell, the Sales Manager for Verity says, “If you intend on moving up in an organization, you began interviewing for the promotion the day you started.” 

Emerging Leaders offers many different opportunities for leadership and professional growth.  My growth as a person since concluding the program has been rewarding.  My organizing principle has kept me prepared, even in challenging conversations with business partners or members.  Being present has deepened relationships.  Being in choice has opened doors.  You have leadership presence, now unlock and use it. 

Learn more about Emerging Leaders and register for the 2015 program here. Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790,

Posted in Events.