Posted by: G. Lane Cavalier | April 18, 2007

Life: White Board Sayings Explained – Number 2

“I can make you a manager, but only you can make yourself a leader!”

– Unknown

 There are a number of variations on this “white board saying”, but all of them basically get back to the same idea.

Managers are made, Leaders happen!  I used to say Managers are made and leaders are born, and to some extent I think that is somewhat true, but I’ve also seen a great example of a manager making himself a leader.

For sake of argument, I’m going to refer to this individual as XX. 

XX came to work for me when I was building out a new group.  He proved to be a solid technician and had incredibly efficient organizational skills.

As our organization grew, we needed to reorganize.  I wanted XX to take over the manager’s position for one of the newly formed teams within the group.  During my discussions with him about taking on the new position and responsibilities he looked at me and said, “I have never managed before.”  My response was “I can teach you to manage, but what I’m concerned about is can you lead?”  XX is and always will be a nice guy, everyone likes him, but I would guess 8 out of 10 people wouldn’t notice him in a room. 

When I define leadership, I am pretty liberal as I think there are literally scores of leadership roles (recognized and unrecognized).  To this end, I thought he had leadership skills, but through a combination of past experiences, and a natural aversion to conflict, I don’t think he yet knew that it was up to him to become a leader.  I not only told him that I wanted him to be that leader, but told him I was going to write the above quote on my white board and it wasn’t coming down until he either “got it” or “gave up”.  He got it!

It’s now 6 years later, he “leads” a staff of twice to three times the size I originally asked him to and at lunch a few weeks ago he told me,  “I finally get what you said, I don’t think of myself as a manager, I need to be a leader.”

Remember, management is a set of skills that we can fine tune and hone.  You can go to classes to be a manager. 

To be a leader you have to be more, you have to know when to follow, when to lead, when to acquiesce and when to stand your ground.  You have to understand that people need to “respect you”, “trust you”, and “believe in you.”  You have to understand that you will make mistakes, but leaders dust themselves off and keep moving forward.  If you fail in any of these areas, they won’t consider you a leader, just a manager.

I can look at XX now and know he’s a leader, it shows in the way he walks, talks, and the way he isn’t afraid to look me in the eye.



  1. Do you think a genuine leader can look his superior in the eye? What if his superior isn’t a leader? Does self-confidence really matter in this discussion? I agree with, “know when to follow, when to lead” etc. but wonder about the “eye” part.

  2. Thanks for the comment.

    To answer your question from my perspective, yes, a true leader can look his superior in the eye regardless of if that person is a leader.

    Leadership and Management have three components to each of them. Managing Down, Managing Up, and Managing Laterally. You can not be successful unless you can do all three, and frankly you cannot do any of them unless you can speak to each individual on a eye-to-eye basis.

    It is always important to remember that you should “respect” your leadership and management structure, but you shouldn’t be “afraid” of it.

    As we see with dogs, looking away is percieved as a submissive gesture and as such turns everything you say into a question (or asking of permission) rather than a statement of fact. Note that I am not condoning ‘attacking’ or being ‘disrespectful’ to an authority figure, but I am saying that if you can’t say what you need to with confidence, then NO ONE will follow you, regardless of your title.

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