WARNING: Spoiler alert! If you haven’t seen the AppleTV show, Ted Lasso, this article contains some spoilers.
One of the pleasant surprises for me this year has been the AppleTV show Ted Lasso. I have watched with delight this fish-out-of-water story of an American small-time college football coach who is hired to coach an English Premier League Soccer team. Did I say he knows absolutely nothing about soccer? Yeah, so there’s that.
Jason Sudekis plays the title character, and his comedic timing and delivery are near flawless. But that’s not what really stayed with me as I continued to watch season one unfold. It was the undeniable leadership lessons contained in the show. These are the lessons that made the biggest impression on me.
Be authentic. Being authentic means being aligned. I am who I say I am. It doesn’t mean people will automatically like you. But it does mean they might actually feel as though they know you. And that is a critical component when you are seeking to build relationships and instill trust.
Throughout his interactions with the team, ownership, the press, and local fans, Ted is unmistakably and awkwardly authentic. His “aw, shucks” homespun style comes through along with his unbridled optimism. And it completely gets on the nerves of everyone around him. But Ted stays true to himself, gradually peeling back more layers so that people see beyond the exterior and begin to see more – his heart.
“Authenticity means erasing the gap between what you firmly believe inside and what you reveal to the outside world.” – Adam Grant
Brené Brown writes about the importance of authenticity, and says, “Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be emotionally honest, to set boundaries, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable… even when it’s hard, even when we’re wrestling with the shame and fear of not being good enough.”
The reason why it is important to be authentic and vulnerable is because it can ultimately make you feel more understood. But what good is being understood by others if the thing they are “understanding” isn't even your true self?
Reward effort, not just results. This is a recurring theme as the season progresses, mainly because Ted is managing a team of seeming underperformers. So much so that we learn if they don’t win enough games, they are going to be “relegated,” meaning they will be demoted to a lower division for lack of performance. In the world of British soccer, it is the most unkind and humiliating of circumstances.
In an early episode, Ted is overseeing practice and one of his players, Sam Obisanya, makes a critical mistake for which he berates himself. Ted pulls him aside to talk with him, and this is what ensues:
“The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing." -Eugene Delacroix
In today’s world of performance-based initiatives and reward systems, this type of guidance might seem counter to the way we’ve been taught to correct unwanted outcomes. We’re taught, “find a problem, fix a problem,” which causes us to take a short-term view of success. Ted is in it for the long haul, and he wants to develop his players to become their best selves on and off the field. He knows that there is almost nothing he can say to Sam that is worse than what he’s already saying to himself. So instead of piling on, Ted chooses to find the lesson, and in doing so he preserves Sam’s sense of self and helps grow his confidence.
Surround yourself with people who know more than you. When Ted arrives in England, he knows little to nothing about the sport he’s about to be coaching. Undeterred, he realizes that he doesn’t have all the answers and that he will have to lean on others for support as he navigates the situation.
His assistant, Coach Beard (played brilliantly by co-writer Brendan Hunt), has been Lasso’s trusty sidekick throughout his coaching years, and he pours himself into learning as much as he can about the sport. And Ted has no problem deferring to his knowledge and expertise throughout the season, even allowing the equipment manager, Nate, to help design plays and give the pre-game speech.
It’s the same with any team – they need to know that there is a future worth working toward. And they need to know that you believe in that future. Otherwise, what are they working for? If you’re optimistic about the future, they will be too. If you’re anxious and pessimistic, you can bet they’ll feel the same.
There are many more leadership lessons sprinkled throughout this show, so if you have the opportunity, I encourage you to watch it and look for them. At the very least, I believe you’ll be entertained, and at most you just might learn some valuable lessons that can help you become a better leader.
What are your thoughts? What are the biggest leadership lessons you’ve learned from watching Ted Lasso? Share them here, because that’s how we all benefit and learn from each other.
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Kevin Ciccotti, Human Factor Formula
Helping companies create sustainable, effective teams that are committed to the success of their projects, the organization, and the individuals with whom they work