I know I’m not alone as I mourn the end of Ted Lasso Season Three, and indeed the series. This spirited comedy about an American football coach in England coaching a premier league soccer team was an anticipated Tuesday ritual. Each episode brought the laugh-out-loud humour, very human characters, insightful lessons, and infectious positivity. Such a void to fill.
I revisited the blog I wrote in 2021 “Eight Leadership Lessons we Can Learn from Ted Lasso” which summarized the first season, and realized if I wanted to highlight the lessons in Season Three (which I do), then I need to address Season Two. I had every intention of writing about that season. I watched it three times and took notes. I was motivated because my original Ted Lasso blog was the most read blog in Fluency history by a huge margin!
The problem was, I struggled to see a clear throughline of Ted’s leadership and, to be honest, I didn’t think he showed up as a great leader in this season. I was disappointed that Ted overlooked bad behaviour, disrespected a colleague, and ignored a team member who clearly needed his attention. I was also aware of him overdoing his optimism and positivity strengths to avoid honest and courageous conversations. As I shared these observations with my business partner Colin, he reminded me Ted wasn’t real, the show was a comedy, and it wasn’t all about leadership. Such a realist and all true. Perhaps I was over-invested…but I wasn’t inspired to write about Season Two. I tucked away the notes and the intention faded.
When Ted Lasso fever heated up a few months back, it prompted me to re-read my notes, re-think my approach and, frankly, check my judgement. It’s amazing how time and space provides perspective.
Two things shifted for me.
First, I let go of the notion that the lessons had to come from Ted alone and looked at the other valuable leadership lessons the show offered.
Two, I observed that the character Ted was struggling with personal issues – the aftermath of a divorce, a young son he was missing, a crisis of confidence and unresolved issues about the death of his father. Because we are human and we bring all of ourselves to work, the weight of our lives can impact how we show up. So let me start with the first lesson:
Lesson 1: Be Compassionate and Human
As leaders, we never know people’s full stories and what they might be carrying, so we need to show up with compassion, empathy and curiosity and resist the temptation to judge based on the behaviours, actions and reactions we see. We need to get curious about what’s driving that behaviour and ask compassionate open-ended questions like: What’s going on for you right now? What do you need? How can I help? Who can you talk to? What does self-care look like? This doesn’t mean we tolerate bad behaviour or lower our standards; it does mean we show up human-to-human and offer support and understanding.
Lesson 2: Get Back to Your Why
Player Isaac gets promoted to team captain but struggles to lead the team. He loses confidence, overthinks it all, and second guesses himself. Former Team Captain Roy (now a coach) takes Isaac to a community field to play a fun game of pick-up soccer to remind him why he loves the game. His mojo returns and he leads better. Sometimes we lose sight of the joy of our work and the reason we chose our path. Every so often, it’s good to get back to your roots and remind yourself to have fun and remember your purpose.
Lesson 3: Make Mental Health Part of the Conversation
This season bravely tackles mental health and introduces a new character in Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, a sports psychologist who’s hired to work with the team. Specifically, it tackles Ted’s mental health and his reluctance to talk to Dr. Sharon. We also see Ted covering up his panic attacks for fear of judgement and ridicule. While mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression affect approximately 1 in 5 adults in North America, it continues to be stigmatized which makes it difficult for employees to seek help or support. In the end, Ted opens up about his mental health and starts the conversation. Leaders can set the tone by having open and supportive conversations about stress and anxiety to reduce the stigma, encourage employees to seek help when needed, and promote a workplace culture that prioritizes well-being.
Lesson 4: The Power of Mentoring
Throughout the season, Rebecca the team owner shows the value of mentoring. She mentors Keeley, the team’s Public Relations person, by sharing her experience and encouraging her to tap into her confidence, take risks, navigate challenges, and pursue her goals. When Keeley decides to leave and start her own company, she’s afraid of appearing disloyal and ungrateful to her mentor.
The purpose of being a mentor is seeing people learn and grow beyond your mentorship. And, if you are being mentored, pursuing your goals and seeking new opportunities doesn’t mean you aren’t grateful or loyal;,it means you are living up to your full potential. It’s a win/win.
“A good mentor hopes you move on. A great mentor knows you will.”
Leslie Higgins, ACF Richmond.
Lesson 5: Be Direct
There were a few times this season where direct, clear communication was warranted and delivered. When Ted disrespected Dr. Sharon and her profession and walked out, the next day she started the conversation with, “I was offended by what you said,” and went on to explain why. When Coach Beard finally calls out Nate’s negative behaviour toward a colleague, he turns up in his office and simply says, “You were rude. Do better.” As noted, psychologist and author Henry Cloud says, “What you create and what you allow is what you get as a leader.” If we ignore or allow bad behaviour, it seeps into the culture.
Lesson 6: Vulnerability Begets Vulnerability
There were many moments in the season where people were brave enough to be vulnerable and through that, found help, peace and connection. Dr. Sharon learned that being vulnerable to Ted after her bike accident built trust and paved the way for Ted to open up to her. Ted then opens up to Rebecca about his struggles with anxiety and panic attacks, and Rebecca shares her own experience with therapy and self-discovery. To be vulnerable is to be human. It builds trust and psychological safety, and it sets the conditions for more open and honest conversations. When leaders are vulnerable, it gives the team permission to be vulnerable.
Season Two tackled important issues and brought in new elements, new characters, romances and team dynamics. It continued to deliver its unique brand of comedy and sports action. And it provided profound leadership lessons that help us become better leaders. Most of all, it also brought a deeper level of emotional resonance illustrating that life and work are deeply human.