Leading is like being a doctor

In February 2011 I underwent cervical spine disc replacement surgery. The doctor performed the surgery on February 25th. However, the healing process took months. According to the doctor, it could take a year for all the symptoms that motivated the surgery to disappear.

What caught my attention is that the surgeon only makes an intervention, but the entire healing process is done by the body. The same happens when a doctor prescribes a medicine, which is also an intervention, but, again, the body is in charge of the entire healing process.

Leading a team is very similar. The leader must make some interventions when necessary, but it is up to the team to do the work to achieve the goals.

Agile leadership

In one of my readings on leadership, I found an interesting comparison between leadership and gardening by Jurgen Appelo, author of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders:

I tend to compare managers to gardeners. An unattended garden is usually full of weeds, not beauty. From a biological perspective, there is no difference. Either way, the ecosystem in the garden is self-organizing. It takes a gardener (authorized by the garden owners) to transform an anarchist garden into something that the owners will enjoy. Likewise, a manager (authorized by the shareholders) is needed to lead the self-organized teams in a direction that adds value to the shareholders.

Even though I like this comparison, he considers that the gardener / manager must constantly interfere, which I do not believe is a suitable behavior for a manager. In my opinion, a manager’s interference should only be done when necessary and, after the interference, the team should work on its own to resolve things with little or no intervention from that manager. Hence my comparison with a doctor who interferes only when necessary, prescribing changes in habits, medicines, physiotherapy and / or surgery and who lets the body do the work and take responsibility for the healing process.

Summing up

The next time you are on a team, either as part of the team or playing the role of leading the team, think of the doctor’s leadership role and teamwork similar to the body’s healing process. It helps to understand the roles and responsibilities of the leader and the people on the team.

In the next chapter, we will understand how to lead under pressure.

Missing something?

So, did you miss something in this chapter? What else would you like me to cover?

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