If you haven't heard yet, Ted Lasso is one of the best shows to come out in the last couple of years from any streaming platform. The story revolves around a friendly, college football coach who is brought to England to coach a struggling soccer club. Everyone thinks this is a crazy decision by the team's owner and that he will fail, but with Ted's positive attitude and focus on developing people he can't be counted out. The show is very funny and full of heart, but what surprised me the most was how much I learned from Coach Lasso with regards to leadership and team building. In this article I will be sharing 5 leadership lessons that stood out to me while watching Ted Lasso (Spoilers for season 1).
Not An Expert? No Problem!
When a new opportunity comes up, it can be scary to jump in if you feel like you don't have the right experience. What can be missed, however, is how well your core skills can match up with the new opportunity even if it's not obvious at first. Ted is a perfect example of this: he doesn't really know or understand the rules of soccer, but he knows that he is great at coaching and team building. So he focuses on the areas where he can have the highest impact (in this case creating the right culture and empowering the experts) and that the score will take care of itself once the system is in place.
Another great example of this comes from the book Turn the Ship Around. In this real-life story, a submarine captain who has spent a year learning all of the ins and outs of the submarine he will be commanding, is placed onto a different vessel where everything is different than what he has studied. He is then forced to rely on the expertise of his team to do even the most basic operational tasks on the ship, but is able to then focus on creating an environment of empowerment and leadership at every level. The culture of the submarine in the past had been one where people looked to the captain to make every decision. In this case the captain encouraged them to make the call and just explain their reasoning.
Allow Your Team to Step Up
As a leader (especially a new leader) one of the biggest challenges can be not stepping in to solve problems for your team when they present themselves. There is the feeling that as a leader, you need to save your time from a variety of situations they will experience, whether it's conflict with team members or finding the answer for a difficult problem.
At a few different points in the season, there are opportunities for Ted to step in and save the day for someone on his team. In an early episode, a few of the team members are bullying someone that is unable to defend themselves. One of the veteran members of the team asks Ted if he is going to do anything about it to which Ted responds "No". Ted doesn't want the bullying to continue, but he knows it will have a much stronger and longer lasting impact if the veteran team member steps up and helps put a stop to this behavior. Creating an environment where team members learn to hold each other accountable is a vital component of an effective self-organizing team and the leaders job is to help foster that environment, not to be the main person to enforce accountability.
Another great example where Ted allows his team to step up is when Nathan, who is a keen observer, but up until this point is fairly quiet and lacking in confidence, writes down a few thoughts around the team's performance that he feels need to be heard and he asks Ted to read it to them. Ted tells Nathan that he agrees with everything that Nathan has written, but that he will not read it to them and believes that he should be the one to share those thoughts. He knows how difficult this will be for Nathan, and many leaders in an effort to protect a team member would jump in and just read the letter. By refusing to "save" Nathan and pushing him to step up, Nathan is able to share his candid feedback with the team and although it's uncomfortable at first, his confidence begins to grow and this also helps show the team that value that he can bring.
Include Everyone to Build Camaraderie and Trust
In the show Ted regularly emphasizes that everyone in the organization is part of the team, not just the coaches and the players. Whether it's including the kit man in strategy / play discussions or pushing the team's management to participate in team rituals and celebrations, Ted wants everyone to feel included and like their contributions matter.
These things might not feel as impactful individually, but is what contributes to the culture that Ted wants to build and ultimately helps unlock each person's potential. As the season progresses characters start to come out of their shells and offer insights and solutions they might have previously held back for fear of stepping out of their lane.
In order to continuously improve it is important to stay humble and continue to ask questions. Throughout the first season of the show, Ted's curiosity is on full display as he seeks to understand his team's motivations and interests as well as how to fit into a completely new culture / country (except for tea, he is definitely not curious about that in one of the funnier running gags of the show). He asks for input from a variety of uncommon sources including fans and the press, investigates why players might be feeling sad or at odds with each other and even creates a suggestion box for team members to submit ideas on how he can help them. Most importantly, as Ted gathers these insights he acts on them, makes adjustments and continues to help the team improve.
Influence the team
A question I have heard a few times is "what is the difference between influence and manipulation?". The answer that has resonated with me is that manipulation is used for selfish aims, whereas influence is more focused on outward aims (other party wins and feels good about the win).
Ted does an incredible job throughout the season of influencing everyone on the team, whether its his players or the team's management, towards his goals. In order for leaders to be effective they have to be able to get people to execute on their vision without being too forceful and this is where influence comes in. Although this is already pretty well known, it can be difficult to imagine what this looks like in action.
In the show, one of the examples that stood out to me is Ted bringing in a new great player to help push and motivate the team's all-star. Another example, was Ted gifting books to different players based on where they needed to develop. These are subtle actions and Ted never directly stated that he was doing these things for a specific purpose, but they provided nudges towards the behavior that he wanted people to adopt.
Have you already seen Ted Lasso? Any leadership tips that I missed? Are there any other shows or movies that have provided tips or tricks that you can apply in the real world?