10 Leadership Lessons From Ted Lasso
How a fish-out-of-water turned out to be an exemplary leader
Apple TV's hit series, Ted Lasso is coming back to our screens on July 23, 2021 and we cannot wait for some more quality time with Ted.
We came to Ted Lasso late. Judging a book by it's cover, we decided a TV show about football was not for us. But we were wrong. This is a show about relationships, personal struggle, teamwork, career choices, communication and more. You don't need to know or care about football to enjoy the heck out of this show (as Ted himself might say).
Ted is in a situation where he cannot lead from expertise since he has no experience of Football. Instead, he has to deploy a myriad of other skills, behaviors and tools in order to succeed. Ted is a great role model for leaders.
If you haven't seen it, this beautifully edited montage will give you the flavor without too many spoilers (though, heads-up, the rest of this article does describe specific plot points from Season 1)...
1. Everyone is worthy of your attention
In episode one, when Ted arrives at Richmond FC (Football Club), he is walking around and taking it all in. He passes a young guy, Nate, who is a kit man (one of the lowest ranking jobs in a football club) but instead of walking right past him on his way to the Director's office, he stops to say hello. Nate is genuinely surprised that Ted took the time to do this.
Then, in episode three, Ted decides to give the players some gifts. Instead of splashing the cash on something blingy, he splashes his time, energy and attention - things that are utterly priceless. He gives each player something meaningful to them.
We often best communicate what we value through the things we choose to pay attention to. While lots of things in life demand our attention, our conscious choices to spend mental and emotional energy send clear signals to those around us.
2. Learn peoples' names
In that same episode, he learns Nate's name. He doesn't just hear it, he makes sure to remember it and he uses that knowledge later on to begin building their relationship. Nate is astounded that Ted remembers his name as it shows a level of care he isn't used to.
Our name is so fundamental to our identity that, when someone remembers it, we feel reassured that they have remembered us. We know that most people don't remember names automatically so we conclude that we matter to them enough for them to take deliberate action on our behalf.
3. Invest in relationships
In the early episodes, Ted begins his relationship with Rebecca (the owner of Richmond FC) by creating moments that matter. He asks her about the first concert she went to and her favorite concert. He really wants to get to know her and share more about himself.
Specifically in episode two, Ted receives a care package from his son in America. It includes peanut butter and some toy soldiers that are very precious to Ted. One of the footballers (Sam) is having a hard time and Ted opts to give Sam one of the soldiers, showing Sam how precious he is.
Sharing time (and other things we value) demonstrates our genuine wish to be closer to another person. Doing so with no objective in mind other than to be kind is a virtuous act that fosters much deeper connections.
4. Leverage rituals to build camaraderie
In the early episodes, we see him create a ritual with his manager around tea and biscuits. He brings her biscuits each day and they chat. This creates a bond between them almost instantly.
Then, in episode six, he encourages the players to come together for a ritual talk about an item that means a lot to them. Ted knows that storytelling and vulnerability is a great way for the team to bond.
Rituals quickly become cultural touchstones. The practices we share create structure in our lives that bind us to other people. They are, in fact, a platform for relationship building as well as achieving other important outcomes.
5. Family first - always
In episode five, when his family arrives from America right in the middle of a practice, he gives his family commitments absolute priority and makes sure his team understands that he's doing so.
Though we generally expect people to act this way, leaders can often forget that they need to set a good example. There are often intense pressures on a leader's time and, as such, it's even more important that they are seen to reinforce the importance of family over work. This gives others in the organization the confidence they need to make the right decisions for their families.
6. Strong teams learn and win together
Ted believes Nate has a lot of potential so, in episode seven, he decides to give him an opportunity that will help him grow. Nate delivers the pre-match talk for a big game. He might fall flat on his face but Ted knows that experimentation is critical to learning.
In episode six, when Richmond FC plays Manchester City, he chooses to bench one of his star players for unsportsmanlike behavior even though it might cost them the game. He sends a clear signal that how they play together is much more important than whether they win a particular game.
It can be so easy to forget that the best teams have competence and humility. That humility isn't just about having good relationships, it's also the engine that allows each individual to continue growing, regardless of their level of skill. A top player without humility will quickly find themselves overtaken by others who know that they still (and will always) have a lot to learn.
7. Make others look / feel good
In episode four, when Nate is coming to meet Ted as his guest for a gala (which is yet another way Ted makes him feel special), Nate is worried he has shown up too early. Ted makes a comment that eases any potential awkwardness and normalizes the situation to ensure that Nate feels comfortable. He redirects the conversation to ask Nate for some advice.
In general, Ted orients his mind around gratitude so he frequently finds things to be grateful for. Most importantly, he always gives voice to that gratitude, benefiting those around him.
The core of Ted's mindset is the recognition of the unique value of each human being. This value is not based on what they can do but, rather, who they can be. When someone fails or does something embarrassing, that doesn't compromise his sense of their fundamental worth. When leaders have this perspective, it makes it much easier to build inclusive, supportive, encouraging teams.
8. Be open - good ideas can come from anywhere
In episode three, when Nate has an idea for a strategy, Ted could pre-judge that idea based on Nate's youth and inexperience. Instead, Ted encourages him to share and it turns out to be a great idea. Ted puts his ego aside again and again.
As a sports coach, Ted understands the value of a level playing field (both metaphorically and literally). As such, when it comes to ideas, he knows that it's foolish (and divisive) to put meaningless barriers in people's way. To fail to listen to someone because of their age or status would mean discarding the potential value of their contribution as well as ruining their sense of safety in making it.
9. Play like a child
In episode three, when the team visits a local school, they set up a challenge in the playground to encourage the kids to participate. Ted could easily stand back and watch - his team has it under control. Instead, he embraces the value of play and joins in.
In the same episode, he goes out for dinner with a reporter to an Indian restaurant. He brings his sense of adventure and let's the waiter choose the food and spiciness level. He's not afraid to try something new.
Play is a liberating mindset that takes joy in the journey and quiets our obsessions about the destination. In a playful state, we are vastly more creative and open to unexpected value. Play is fundamentally how we learn our deepest lessons and form our closest friendships. Leadership without play is merely management.
10. Don't take yourself too seriously - be vulnerable
In every episode, we see him using self-deprecating humour. He's constantly projecting the reality "I'm human, I'm vulnerable and everything's okay".
He frequently admits his mistakes and so sends a clear message that it's more important to do the right thing than to be right.
When he's talking to the press before the team goes to play at Everton, he openly admits to not knowing about relegation. His honesty about his gaps is refreshing and it disarms the journalist who was out for blood, causing that journalist to warm to him.
When we take ourselves too seriously, we create an emotionally and intellectually brittle mental state. Instead of adapting to new information and embracing failure as a learning opportunity, we begin to take offense at ideas that challenge our beliefs or our sense of self. Anger, resentment, pomposity, defensiveness and disengagement are all milestones along that path. By contrast, embracing our silly, flawed nature as human beings means sharing perhaps the most fundamental parts of our experiences and so connecting most deeply with each other.
Check It Out
For all these reasons and more, we highly recommend checking Ted Lasso out on Apple TV . With season 2 due to start soon, we'd love to hear what other leadership lessons you spot while enjoying the show.