Lead Or Manage, Which Is The Ideal Approach In An Agile Team?

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31st May, 2022
Lead Or Manage, Which Is The Ideal Approach In An Agile Team?

For all those who live in an Agile world, the word “manager” is not the most loved one. But what is it that makes us feel like that? Why don’t we have the same feelings when we hear the word “leader”?

Well, let’s think a bit about it...

Often used interchangeably, the terms management and leadership create confusion among people. Some people think that management and leadership are the same thing, others don’t. 

In fact, the term leadership in the organizational world is relatively new. A couple of centuries ago, no one would have thought of using it in a work environment. Indeed, great leaders of history were related to politics, philosophy, governments, religion. Some examples are Abraham Lincoln (president of the United States that abolished slavery), Martin Luther King Jr (Baptist minister who led the Civil Rights Movement) and Mahatma Gandhi (who led India to independence and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world), among others.

Based on these examples, and if you Google it, you will find several others, we can infer that to lead is to motivate, to inspire, to influence people. And why would someone want to influence others? Well, to share a vision with the team and motivate the team to be aligned to that vision! 

Management Quote

So, what makes the difference between a manager and a leader? Basically, it is the approach they use to reach people and the approach they use at work. Leadership is about inspiring and management is about planning. Leaders are focused on aligning people to the organizational vision, which includes obtaining their buy-in, communication, motivation, and inspiration, while managers focus on planning, budgeting, and taking the vision to a reality. Managers follow processes that make organizations successful, they take care of numbers that demonstrate good performance and solve problems when they arise. 

Control or inspiration?

Basically, managers direct and control. They follow the organization’s policies and processes. Their work is more rational and logical. They create plans and follow them till their success. Managers have to detect risks that may impact their plans and mitigate them. Their objective is to have everything under control, even those plan items that may be at risk since their final goal is to achieve the expected outcome for the team.

On the other hand, leaders let people be themselves, but at the same time, they share with them the organization’s vision and inspire them to follow it, to be part of a bigger purpose. Leaders understand that forming high performing teams is much better than having individual heroes since diversity is the key to success. This is the reason why their focus is on developing people to its highest performance. Leaders truly believe that this is the path to achieving the expected outcome for the team.

Status quo or disruption?

Managers ensure that the organization’s policies and processes are followed, but leaders… leaders challenge the status quo. Managers try to ensure that every plan is complete as agreed, but leaders embrace change. They know that change is part of our lives and that if teams do not adapt to change, they may die. This doesn’t mean that managers don’t believe this as well, but their focus is set on achieving goals, as planned.

People or processes?

Managers create or follow processes and use tools to support the team in the accomplishment of their objectives. Leaders focus on developing people, by coaching them to be a better version of themselves.

…..“People over processes”, this is one of the values of the Agile manifesto. And this is the point where we distinguish leaders and managers, and why managers are not “that well seen” in Agile environments. 

people or processes

After having made this comparison, we may now understand those who are against management in Agile environments. Managers seem to be the opposite of what any Agile team may want…

However, in order to have successful organizations, there needs to be managers and leaders, people with logical minds and people with innovative ideas. If an organization is run efficiently, then for sure there are leaders and managers in it!!

Leader & manager difference

It is the key for organizations to create the correct balance between leadership and management. Of course, “correct balance” may mean something completely different for each organization, and it is their responsibility to define it and achieve it.

Achieving it may mean having in your team leaders, managers or people that have management and leadership skills, which gives them and the company a competitive advantage. It is key to understand that both sides of the coin are important. Nowadays, people not only look at their managers for them to assign tasks but for guidance. Teams are eager to grow and improve, teams are eager to embrace change and be challenged. So, what are you waiting for? Challenge them! Give them what they want and they will be high performers, for sure! As Peter Drucker says: “You don’t manage people. Your task is to lead people by making productive their specific strengths and knowledge.”

Never forget that in Agile environments, “people” are your highest priority. 


Gisela Provenzano

Blog Author

Gisela is an IT consultant with over 10 years of experience as a Processes and Methodologies SME, Project Manager, Scrum Master and Agile Coach. Her forte includes Agile methodologies like Scrum, Kanban, Scrumban, Pair Programming, and TDD for Data Science and Operations Research projects. Since 2013, she has been working for different accounts like Deloitte, Carnival, Teletech, BBVA, LAN, GAP, Pernod Ricard, K12, iSeatz and Westcon, wherein she was involved in project improvements, processes framework implementation, project management, consultancy and coaching.

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