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Leadership According to Ted Lasso

Updated: Jun 24, 2021


Win favor with biscuits - extra points if they are awesome and baked at home!

I recently started watching Ted Lasso. I heard it was light, fun and thoroughly enjoyable, which is correct. I was surprised to find it much, more more. It is the television version of some of my favorite teamwork lessons. For those that haven't watched the show, I must warn there are spoilers ahead. The premise of the show is that Rebecca, a woman scorned by her adultering ex-husband wants to find a way to seek revenge, so she aims to kill the thing he loves the most - his football team, AFC Richmond (set in England). So, she hires what she believes to be an amateur and relatively incompetent 2nd Division American college football coach, Ted Lasso, who is completely unfamiliar with English football (soccer). She has underestimated him, though. She thinks his apparent naivete and lack of knowledge of English football will result in a poor showing on the field. But, she doesn't understand that what AFC Richmond needs more than anything is someone to make them a team, and you don't necessarily need to understand football to do that - you need to understand people. Ted comes in and works to ensure the team understands each others' strengths, cares for one another, believes in themselves and each other, take risks, and most of all, enjoys what they are doing! While initially reluctant to accept Ted, the team slowly warms to him, and how can you not - he truly cares about each and every one of them.

In each episode we learn some rather important maxims of good teamwork as Ted Lasso changes the culture and happiness level of all those he comes into contact with. In fact, if we all practiced leadership according to Ted Lasso, not only would we likely be more successful, but also happier and the world a lot kinder.

Some of those lessons include:

1) Practice kindness. Rebecca, the scored ex-wife, and new owner of AFC Richmond, seems like a hard nut to crack, but on the first full day of work, Ted shows up with biscuits and sits down for a morning chat. She appears annoyed, and begrudgingly takes the biscuits, and makes it clear she does not wish to start her day this way. And, even though she seems more angry than appreciative of the gift, Ted shows up with the biscuits every day. He isn't doing it to be thanked. He is doing it because kindness matters, and the opportunity to have a talk with his boss over these treats might allow him to get to know her and connect with her. Later we even find out that Ted has been baking these biscuits himself. Everyone appreciates someone who know what you need, even when you don't. It doesn't take long though for her to see these biscuits (the extrinsic reward) and the chat with this man brimming with optimism and empathy, (intrinsic reward) is exactly what she really needed. As time goes by Rebecca becomes warmer and more openly thankful of both the treats and the talks and as she becomes more vulnerable and open, the culture at work, changes for the better. Spread kindness - it is infectious.

2) Don't focus on wins or losses; focus on the team. Ted is not worried that the team keeps losing. He worries that the team isn't getting along - that they are playing as individuals and not as a collective. One of my favorite leadership theories (Blake-Mouton) talks about whether a leader should be 100% people focused or 100% goal focused or something in between. The theory claims that you should be both 100% people and goal focused. But, the truth is that when you are 100% people focused, often this goes a long way towards goal completion. When everyone on the team feels seen, is given the opportunity to shine, be heard and feels connected, it is much more likely that goals will be reached. When everyone's strengths are used, you have a better team. Think of the weave of a basket - the more tightly it is interconnected, the stronger it is. Mid-season AFC Richmond starts winning as the team embraces Lasso's coaching methods.

3) Have faith in people. Not everyone is a super star from the start. But, everyone has something special to give; they just need someone to believe in them and give them a chance. Several underdogs surround Ted, including his quiet, unassuming, apologetic assistant Nate, who he asks to give the pep talk prior to their big game. His words are just the right amount of calling people out on their nonsense and encouraging them to be the best they can be that the team goes out there and pulls out a huge victory. What did Ted get in the end? Not only a team victory, but also an assistant that got a huge shot of self confidence. A true leader creates new leaders.

4) Take calculated risks. Ted pulls his best (but pompous) player out of a must win game, during half time, because he refuses to pass to other players. He wants to be a one man show. Ted puts in a player with lesser known skills, and the team, without someone trying to consume the entire spotlight, works together instead of as a bunch of supporting characters to one super star, and guess what, they win! And, even if they had lost, the risk was important, because it said I believe that investing in people will create the outcomes we want. (see goal number 2).

5) Be curious - ask questions: This is yet another lesson in empathy. Towards the end of season one, Ted makes a bet with Rupert (Rebecca's ex) over the outcome in a dart game. Rupert, too, underestimates Ted who we find out has played darts with his father a good portion of his life and is quite good at the game. We all assume we know things about people without ever asking anything about them or talking to them directly. Every time you take the time to ask why or how, you learn something valuable that drives connection. People are interesting. Talk to them, ask them "why?". Understand where people are coming from; it might either enlighten your own perspective, or give you an opportunity to think better how to work with someone different than you. Diversity of ideas, backgrounds, cultures, is valuable and essential - asking questions reflects that you understand and appreciate this.

6) Be vulnerable - The star player on AFC Richmond is Jamie Tartt. Jamie, unfortunately, thinks he is the most important part of the team and treats others downright meanly. Eventually, Ted places him on the sideline and is able to show him that the team actually does better without his arrogance and divisiveness. During an interesting scene having to do with a team curse, the teammates all give up something important for a sacrificial fire to release themselves of the curse. Jamie shows up and gives up the boots his mum gave him when he started playing. He talks about how his father demanded his excellence and toughness and would settle for nothing less. He spoke from a vulnerable place, and for the first time, you can see his teammates connecting with him and he with them. This is what it takes to trust - a sense of shared vulnerability. It is a risk, yes, but worth it because connection is what we all, ultimately, need to be happy and feel safe.

Looking forward to the lessons of season 2.

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