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Leading is similar to being a doctor
April 27th, 2011 by Joca

Those who has been following my posts know that I like to borrow ideas from medicine and relate them to software development an management. Below are two posts that make comparisons between medicine and software development and management:

The surgery

By the end of February/2011 I was submitted to a cervical spine disc replacement surgery like the one shown below (it’s just an animation with no actual blood):

The result is in the x ray images below:

frontal x ray

frontal x ray

x ray side view

x ray side view


The doctor did the surgery on February, 25th. However, the healing process will take months. According to the doctor, it can take one year until all the symptoms that motivated the surgery disappear.

The comparison

What caught my attention is that the surgeon only did an intervention but all the healing process is done by the body. The same happens when a doctor prescribes a medicine, which is also an intervention, but again is up to the body to actually heal itself.

Leading a team is quite similar. The leader should do some interventions when necessary but is up to the team to do the work in order to get to the goals.

Agile leadership

Leadership is topic that I really enjoy studying and discussing. It’s one of my top topics in this blog with more than 40 posts so far. And I already discussed about agile leadership in some of these previous posts:

In one of my reading session on leadership I found an interesting comparison between leadership and gardening made by Jurgen Appelo, who writes frequently about agile management:

I often compare managers to gardeners. An unmanaged garden is typically full of weeds, not beauty. From a biological perspective, there’s no difference. Either way, the ecosystem in the garden is self-organizing. It takes a gardener (authorized by the owners of the garden) to turn an anarchistic garden into something that the owners will enjoy. Likewise, it takes a manager (authorized by shareholders) to steer self-organizing teams in a direction that delivers value to the shareholders.

Even though I like this comparison, it considers that the gardener/manager has to constantly interfere, which I don’t believe is an appropriate behaviour for a manager. In my view, a manager’s interference should be done only when needed and, after the interference, the team should work by itself to solve things out with little or no intervention by the manager. Hence my comparison to a doctor who interferes only when needed by prescribing change of habits, medicine, physical therapy and / or surgery and who let the body do the work and be in charge of the healing process.

Next time you are in a team, either as part of the team or playing the role of leading the team, think about the leadership role similar to the doctor and the team work similar to the healing process carried out by the body. It helps understand the roles and responsibilities.

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