When Canada’s national newspaper, the Globe and Mail, runs a story heralding the triumphant return of Season Two of Apple TV’s Ted Lasso, a show that recently took home 7 Emmy’s in its first season, you know this is a must watch show.
An American comedy that masterfully weaves in biting British humour, Ted Lasso is a successful American collegiate football coach from Kansas who’s surprisingly recruited to coach an English Premier League soccer team, a game he knows nothing about. As he says, “You could fill two internets with what I don’t know about football.” Hilarity ensues.
There are so many reasons I’ve watched the first season three times since its release in August 2020 and why I’m equally immersed in Season Two. I love the humour, characters and stories. And the healthy dose of optimism, kindness and humanness is just good for the soul. But much more than the laughs (and occasional tears) the sitcom offers, it’s how the Ted Lasso character, played by Jason Sudeikis, delivers each week a masterclass in leadership. Behind that twangy American accent and clipboard coach is a great leader… a really great leader.
He’s been set up the team’s owner, who wants the team to fail. He’s poorly received, insulted and written off as a buffoon by the team, media and the fan community (that’s a lot of rejection). And yet, he demonstrates, show after show, how a rising tide lifts all boats and how clarity, consistency and caring leadership changes the game.
Through these eight lessons that I observed as I watched (and re-watched) the show, Ted shows us what it’s like to be the kind of inspiring leader people admire, follow, care about and listen to.
- Know Your Purpose: For Ted it’s not about the wins or losses; his purpose is to help his players be the best versions of themselves on and off the field. Leadership is about the long-game, not the short-term wins. Invest in unlocking the potential of people, and the results will follow.
- Build Relationships: Ted knows the importance of building relationships across the whole team. He’s curious about people, intentional about remembering names and birthdays, and relentless about instituting an informal daily “biscuits with the boss” meeting to get know his reluctant boss, Rebecca, as a person. Getting to know people on a personal level builds trust which is foundational to creating a high-performing team up, down and across.
- Be Curious: Ted is one curious guy. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he has all the questions. He’s never coached soccer and he’s never lived in England, but he learns through questions and the wisdom of his assistant coach. He also recognizes that people who aren’t curious underestimate him, to their detriment. Having a coach mindset, being curious and asking questions, enables us to understand more, assume less, learn more, judge less, build stronger relationships and help others learn.
- Pay Attention to the Details: Whether it’s recognizing a player is homesick, understanding what’s important to others, or following through on a suggestion to fix the water pressure in the showers, Ted knows that details matter. They communicate “I see you. I hear you. And I value you.” As leaders, we don’t have to make grand gestures to show we care, we are listening, and that we have your back. The small things matter to people. They will see and feel them.
- Make the Tough Calls: Ted isn’t afraid to make the tough (and unpopular) calls in pursuit of his mission to develop people and the team. After a few conversations that fall on deaf ears, he makes his point by pulling the star goal-scoring player from the game, at a crucial moment, because the player refuses to recognize he’s part of a team. Leaders who tolerate individual behaviours at the expense of the team don’t build cohesive and high-functioning teams that deliver results.
- Apologize: Ted recognizes when you don’t show up as your best self and you take your emotions out on other people, you need to apologize. As leaders, we need the self-awareness to know when we are out of line, and we need the humility and courage to apologize. It sends a message to the team that we are human and, when we falter, we need to fix it. That’s how we attend to our relationships.
- Unlock the Potential in Others: Whether bringing out the leader in the team captain Roy, giving valuable life lessons to a young player Sam (be a goldfish), or letting kit man Nathan deliver his ideas and feedback to the team, Ted sees the potential in others and holds them capable to excel. The best thing a leader can do for others is to believe in them. What would it look like to start with the assumption that people are smart enough, resilient enough, capable enough, competent enough, brave enough and good enough?
- Hope and Optimism: It’s not lost on Ted that you can achieve great things if you believe in yourself. He stops negative self-talk in its tracks with quips like: “You beating yourself up is like hearing Woody Allen play the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it.” Ted knows you can’t achieve hard goals if you don’t believe in yourself and the team. Bringing optimism to leadership isn’t about downplaying reality, it’s about believing you will prevail.
Whether it’s unlocking the leader in the surly team captain Roy, recognizing the potential in kit man ‘Nate the Great’, breaking through Rebecca’s armour, or instilling the value of teamwork in star-player Jamie, Ted Lasso makes everyone around him a better person. And he does it with unrelenting optimism, positivity and curiosity, and a deep belief in people and their potential.
Ted Lasso is leadership at its finest.
Which Ted Lasso leadership traits show up in your leadership today?
Which one Lasso leadership trait can you develop and practice in the future?
How can Ted help you build a better team?