Lead Or Manage, Which Is The Ideal Approach In An Agile Team? Shubham@socialpill.in May 16, 2024

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

You’re leading an agile team, but are you truly leading or just managing? The difference may seem subtle, but it’s critical for an agile team’s success. Agile methodologies like Scrum and Kanban emphasize adaptability, customer collaboration, and continuous improvement over rigid procedures. An agile mindset aligns better with transformational leadership that inspires and empowers rather than transactional management focused on processes and control.

However, management still plays an important supporting role. Skilled agile leaders strike the right balance – providing a clear vision and motivation while leveraging business management tools in 2024 like Jira or Trello to enable self-organizing teams. They foster an environment of trust, innovation, and team empowerment.

So which is the ideal approach? This article explores why leadership trumps management for agile, though both are essential. You’ll learn how to energize your team through servant leadership principles while judiciously applying management practices to remove obstacles. The goal? Becoming an agile leader who helps your team achieve amazing results.

The Difference Between Leading and Managing

Okay, let’s get one thing straight from the jump – leading ain’t the same as managing, especially in this agile world. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen teams get tripped up by confusing the two.

Leadership is all about painting a vision that fires people up and gets them all marching towards the same dream. It’s inspiring your squad, nurturing that magical team flow where everyone is motivated and empowered to bring their A-game.

Management, on the other hand, is more about the tactical side – making sure the trains run on time, allocating resources, analyzing risks, that sort of thing. More cheerleading the plays than actually calling them, if you know what I mean.

Now, don’t get me wrong, both are crucial. But agile development throws a wrench into doing things the old corporate, top-down way. The name of the game is adapt or die – adjusting priorities on the fly based on customer feedback. Rigid plans and procedures tend to go straight out the window.

That’s where transformational agile leadership comes in clutch. Your role is to rally the troops around a common mission and vision, not just dole out orders. You’ve got to be the coach who empowers the team to self-organize using whichever awesome framework fits best – Scrum, Kanban, you name it.

Management tasks like ensuring you’ve got the right people and tools (shoutout to my Asana fans!) definitely remain. But it’s about enabling success through a light touch – not control for control’s sake. The best agile leaders inspire ownership while providing just enough guidance to keep it all moving in the right direction.

The Case for Agile Leadership

At its core, the Agile mindset prioritizes values like individuals and interactions over processes and tools. It’s all about collaborating closely with customers to embrace change rather than following a rigid, predetermined plan.

This agile philosophy aligns perfectly with a leadership-driven approach over heavy management. Instead of trying to meticulously control every detail upfront, agile leaders inspire teams to blaze their own trail. They provide a clear vision and strategic guidance, but encourage self-organization, autonomy and continuous learning.

A core part of the agile leader’s role is fostering an environment of psychological safety where team members feel empowered to take risks, speak up, and challenge assumptions. This unlocks higher levels of engagement, innovation and motivation.

After all, agile is fundamentally about delivering outstanding products and delighting customers through rapid iteration and responsiveness. Who understands customer needs and what’s required to create solutions better than the cross-functional experts actually doing the work?

By moving away from traditional command-and-control management, agile leaders allow teams to self-organize around emerging priorities and customer feedback loops. They clear organizational roadblocks and provide servant-based leadership by supporting rather than subjugating.

This facilitative approach enables teams to fully embrace key agile principles like “responding to change over following a plan.” It avoids excessive processes and documentation that introduce bloat and stifle creativity. Agile leaders model behaviors like transparency, collaboration and knowledge sharing across the organization. Rather than assigning tasks, they mentor team members, coaching them to take ownership while trusting teams to figure out the best way to deliver value rapidly.

The Role of Management in Agile

Now, don’t get me wrong – management still plays a vital supporting role, even in an agile world. Transformational agile leadership is the cake, but pragmatic management practices are the essential ingredients that allow it to rise.

While an overly rigid, top-down management style is antithetical to agile values like self-organization and flexibility, some level of management is required. After all, even self-directed teams need to have the right people, resources, and tools such as Jira or Trello allocated effectively.

Skilled agile leaders understand that completely removing management responsibilities like planning, risk mitigation, and process adherence would be chaos. They judiciously apply just enough management to provide the consistent framework and governance that enables teams to thrive.

The trick is striking a balanced approach where management functions as a tool to empower and facilitate the team’s success, not control or restrain it. This is the essence of servant leadership – managers removing organizational obstacles and providing coaching rather than commanding orders.

At the end of the day, management helps create an environment of accountability, alignment, and visibility. For example, leveraging business management tools in 2024 helps promote transparency with metrics like burndown charts and cumulative flow diagrams. Meanwhile, risk management aids in proactively removing impediments.

However, the role of the manager is focused on enabling self-organization and autonomy while trusting the collective wisdom of the team. It’s about pushing decision-making capability down rather than heavyweight, prescriptive processes.

Striking the Right Balance

At the end of the day, the ideal approach for leading an Agile team isn’t an either/or between leadership and management. It’s about striking the perfect balance that brings out the best of both worlds.

On one side, you need a strong Agile leadership presence – someone who can rally the team around a compelling vision and core objectives. This is the inspirational force that models key leadership behaviors like servant leadership, emotional intelligence, and continuous improvement.

An effective Agile leader has the soft skills to build trust, psychological safety, and a supportive coaching culture. They empower teams through autonomy and self-organization while providing just enough mentorship to keep them aligned. This person epitomizes transformational leadership.

But that leadership flair has to be complemented with a light touch of management practices. Even self-organizing teams need some level of practical enablement, whether that’s facilitating ideation sessions, managing dependencies, or leveraging the right business management tools in 2024.

The best Agile leaders seamlessly weave in just enough governance through agile ceremonies, risk mitigation strategies, and measurement frameworks. They establish consistent practices around the “how” without dictating the “what” and stifling innovation.

It’s all about balance – being flexible and open to Change while still providing a stable, motivating structure for teams to operate within. With the right mix of visionary leadership and pragmatic management, you unlock team ownership, emotional investment, and incredible results.


At the end of the day, embracing an Agile leadership mindset is the ideal approach for unleashing high-performing, self-organizing teams. While management still plays an important supporting role, true agility requires inspirational leadership over strict command-and-control.

By creating psychologically safe environments, agile leaders unlock higher engagement and innovation. Rather than micromanaging, leaders coach teams, promoting autonomy while still providing just enough direction. They leverage business management tools in 2024 and agile ceremonies as facilitating frameworks, not rigid constraints.

The most effective agile leaders strike a balance – blending their inspirational vision with just enough pragmatic management practices to enable success. It’s a nuanced approach focused on servant leadership – removing roadblocks so teams can self-organize effectively. Agile leaders are emotionally intelligent mentors who trust their team’s collective wisdom to iterate and pivot based on customer needs.

The path forward is clear: Embrace transformational Agile leadership anchored in emotional intelligence, continuous learning, and a strong motivational presence. But balance that leadership power with a light touch of management best practices. The payoff? Incredible team performance, rapid time-to-market, and outstanding customer experiences.