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  • Writer's pictureJames Eves

What can we learn about leadership from Ted Lasso?

Updated: Mar 8

If you haven’t watched the hit TV series on Apple TV+, I would highly recommend checking it out.

You don’t even need to be a football fan to be swept into the sporting emotional rollercoaster of Coach Ted Lasso, and his new world as Head Coach at the fictional football club AFC Richmond.

It might not seem a likely place to find inspiration and key learnings about leadership, but over the course of 3 seasons, the valuable lessons unravel about his exceptional leadership and the power of individual strengths.

The four key points that I took away from the show.

Authentic leadership

When teams are performing poorly, managers and those in leadership positions may portray a persona of unbreakable confidence, that they are never wrong, and give the impression that they have all the answers. Whilst there may be a perceived respect of their title, there is limited connection, collaboration and trust. Bad news.

Ted Lasso is the opposite of this and consistently shows his authentic self. He treats everyone with genuine respect, kindness and empathy. When times are challenging he opens up, shows vulnerability, and shares what he is thinking, and feeling.

In a team environment, when a leader brings their true self every day, this sets a tone and a foundation for others to role model this behaviour, to communicate more openly and honestly, which inspires everyone to be their true selves and to work together as a team.

People skills over subject matter knowledge

One of the intriguing aspects about the recruitment of Ted by AFC Richmond is that his prior success came from coaching American Football. He knew very little about “soccer” or English football. You can imagine the reaction.

As I write this and the football season has drawn to an end for this year, and coaching changes are happening, it would invoke the same disbelief, anger and more from fans!

How can this guy turn our team into one of the greats if he has no idea about football? Surely we need someone who has the experience and answers to our problems?

The beauty is that what Ted lacks in knowledge of the game, he more than makes up for in emotional intelligence and people skills.

He has a real talent for getting to know all of the stakeholders in and around the team. From the Board of directors to operations staff, support staff, fans, and the local community. He goes way beyond the focus on the team.

His warm, friendly and charming personality draws people in, which is part of his authentic leadership, to make those connections and bonds that create the ties for a strong team.

His lack of knowledge in this field (forgive the pun!) is not as relevant, which leads to my next point.

Strengths & Culture - when individuals unite

In being authentic, getting to know every individual, what makes them tick and what the team needs, he picks up on all the unique abilities, talents and strengths that each person possesses.

From the management perspective of the team, he doesn’t need to be the master technician in how to attack and defend, which set pieces to play or what certain rules are.

Ted surrounds himself with key people that complement his natural talents and strengths. He has a diverse coaching staff that helps to make key decisions. It isn’t about one person, and they are all empowered to bring ideas, opinions and perspectives to the evolving situations before them.

This also applies to the players. In spending the time to really get to know each person, he gets to see a multi-layered perspective of each person. Uncovering these elements, sharing them, and in developing them, he helps each player to build the confidence in their own strengths, personality and identity (on and off the field).

Do this across a team, bring them together as one, and magic starts to happen. A strong team culture leads to more engaged people working collaboratively to achieve levels of performance and success that no one is expecting.

Patience, resilience and optimism

When times are hard, challenges persist, and a lot of negativity is being thrown your way, it is a tough time for a leader / manager.

Poor leadership can lead to finger pointing, a blame game, putting pressure on others that the fault is all theirs.

Something to admire in Ted, as an exceptional leader, is that when results aren’t going their way, he floats above this criticism he receives in the street, in the press, and from within the team.

He is unwavering in that he has the ultimate belief that greatness takes time, that short term hurdles will exist, but that we must all take the learnings from these and continue to move together towards the common goal.

He does not berate others or point out everything they have done wrong. He acknowledges where they are, and the belief that they continue to make progress, and with humour and inspiration, he can set the team away again with renewed enthusiasm.

It is not naive optimism, but a proactive approach and mindset in how to show others the way forward; reminding them of the vision, with some clear instructions as to what they are creating. To trust the process and to believe.

Of course, this series is based on a fictional character and team, so is this all just fantasy and wishful thinking?

Think about some of the great bosses or leaders you have worked with over the years.

You probably recognise some or all of the aforementioned aspects of an exceptional leader and why you admire them.

And these things are very much replicable in the real world.

Role model these behaviours and make them part of performance measures.

Draw out, develop and utilise strengths across a team.

And give the time and space for such individuals, teams and organisations to grow and thrive.

Focus only on the short-term, quarterly results and squeeze every ounce of soul and energy from your people, and you might end up scoring an own goal.

Invest in finding, hiring and developing more people like Ted Lasso.

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