5 Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso

This show, Ted Lasso, is so good. I’m mildly obsessed with it: listening to podcasts about the show, reading in-depth articles, and even playing the ear-wormy theme song on guitar.

It’s my favorite season of comedy since…maybe…the second season of The Office.

It’s funny, but also smart and full of heart. And full of really great ideas on leadership and building teams.

Quick plot synopsis: Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis) is an American football coach hired, through somewhat silly and impossible circumstances, to lead an English Premier League soccer team.

Lasso is clueless to soccer but wise in the ways of building teams and building relationships.

Not to spoil anything, but Lasso’s numerous leadership and people skills have huge benefits to the team and to people all around the team.

Here are 5 key techniques of Coach Lasso’s for leading teams and building relationship:
(Note: Mild Spoilers Ahead)

1. Put Your Ego Aside

Lasso isn’t interested in elevating or promoting himself. He carries his own suitcase when he disembarks from the plane in London. He insists on knowing the names of everyone around him, including the airport limo driver, and the neglected kit man, Nate. No one is beneath Ted Lasso.

These investments in relationships pay off later. For example, that limo driver runs an Indian restaurant that Lasso and a journalist visit in Episode 3, for free helpings of very spicy food. And lowly kit man Nate becomes a valuable advisor (and eventually an assistant coach. Sorry, that was a spoiler.).

The journalist writes a profile of Lasso. In it, he says: “In a business that celebrates ego, Lasso reins his in.”

By putting himself aside, Lasso elevates those around him. As a result, he builds new relationships and identifies strengths in those who didn’t know they had them.

2. Recognizing When Some Techniques Don’t Work

Lasso shared little Army men toys with his boss and his team. He liked the symbolism they provided to guard and protect at all times.

However, Sam, a young Nigerian on the team points out that the Army toys represent American Imperialism. Instead of arguing, Lasso sets them aside and seeks different techniques to connect with his players.

3. Fixing the Little Things First

Lasso starts his tenure with a suggestion box, adorned by Nate’s niece. After receiving some unprintable suggestions, he gets a tangible submission: fix the shower pressure. He immediately does so, and it has an impact, especially on Roy Kent, the team captain. This is an important initial step in establishing that critical relationship between coach and captain.

4. Finding Ample Reasons to Celebrate

Nancy Duarte in her book Illuminate wrote that organizations must transform to thrive, and celebrate important milestones in their journey.

Duarte applies the S-curve concept to building and changing teams, by recognizing that teams have to go through a progression of steps to drive change, from Dreaming of the change, to Leaping and Fighting for it, then Arriving, before finding a new Dream.

Lasso subscribes to this, seeking out every single opportunity to celebrate progress, in small and large ways:

  • The team celebrates Sam’s birthday after a loss.
  • They create a ceremony to eradicate the curse of the treatment room, which becomes a celebration of the team coming closer together.
  • Celebrating the big Everton victory with a night of karaoke

The rite of a celebration recognizes the achievement of an accomplishment but also sets the group on the next step in its journey. Each celebration is the end of a phase of their journey (Coming together as a team, Eliminating Demons, Winning a Big Game) as they move to new challenges.

5. Empower Others

Lasso is continuously empowering others around him. He empowers Nate by bringing him into the inner circle, then listening to his advice, and eventually promoting him to coach.

Lasso also encourages Roy Kent to embrace his role and step up as captain and leader for the team.

The 2017 book The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams highlights the benefit of a strong captain, to share the burden of leadership and ensure it is carried out in the trenches.

Lasso must have read the book because he identifies early that he needs Roy to step into his role as Captain and own it.

And eventually, Kent does. And the team is much better for it.

Each of the examples above illustrates how Lasso pays close attention to the team. From this attention, he gathers insights to make connections and to build trust. Once trust is built, he can deliver real change and have a real impact.

I’m looking forward to seeing how that real impact plays out in Season 2.

technologist, cultural omnivore, book nut, father

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