The Tao of Ted Lasso
Lessons on leadership from the best show of 2020
If you listened to episode 51 of the Promo UPFront Podcast with me and Kirby Hasseman, you already know that I’m a massive fan of the Apple+ show Ted Lasso. With season 2 dropping in just a little over two weeks, I recently rewatched the entire first season of the show, and, if it’s possible, I fell in love with it just a little bit more. Yes, it’s that good.
For those unfamiliar with the show, the title character of Ted Lasso (played to perfection by Jason Sudeikis) is an American football coach hired to coach the fictitious AFC Richmond of the English Premier League (EPL). With zero knowledge of European football, or as we call it, soccer, Lasso has to rely on his leadership rather than technical skills to bring the team together as they fight to avoid relegation to a junior league.
In every single episode, there are lessons on leadership – quotes like “I believe in believe” – that would have the crustiest of old goats nodding in agreement. As I enveloped myself again in the first season of Ted Lasso, I noted his management style that leaders would be wise to employ, regardless of industry.
Humility – Lasso’s approach to his newfound role as a professional soccer coach is a case study in modesty. At his first press conference with the notoriously feisty British press, Lasso boldly – and accurately – states, “you could fill two internets with what I don’t know about football.” This self-deprecating and humble approach immediately puts Ted in a position of passive diffidence, which makes it difficult for the soccer writers to attack him. When leaders are humble enough to recognize their weaknesses, they invite trust and model the path forward for the entire group.
Move Forward from Mistakes – As mentioned above, Coach Lasso has an immeasurably small amount of knowledge about the game of soccer, which leads to many mistakes on the pitch. A player makes one such error in the first episode and beats himself up in the locker room. Instead of simply correcting the mistake, Ted gives the player an important lesson instead. “You know what the happiest animal in the world is? It’s a goldfish. It’s got a 10-second memory. Be a goldfish.” By giving the player permission to learn from the mistake and have the short memory to move on, we all learn to shake off mistakes and, instead, focus on solutions.
Curiosity – The character of Ted Lasso has the unique ability to check his ego and be inquisitive to the point of exposing his weaknesses. From the outset, he knows that this type of vulnerability isn’t a weakness; it’s his superpower. At one point in the show, Lasso shares a story about how important being curious is. “Guys underestimated me my entire life. And for years, I never understood why. It used to really bother me. But then, one day, I was driving my little boy to school, and I saw this quote by Walt Whitman, and it was painted on the wall there. It said: ‘Be curious, not judgmental.’ And I liked that. So I get back in my car, and I’m driving to work, and all of a sudden, it hits me. All them fellas that used to belittle me; not a single one of them were curious. They thought they had everything all figured out. So they judged everything and everyone. And I realized that their underestimating me…who I was had nothing to do with it. Cause if they were curious, they could’ve asked questions.” Ted instructs us how important being curious is because it teaches us much more about the people around us than simply judging them. I highly recommend taking the two minutes to watch the scene below.
See the Positive – When Coach Lasso arrives in London, he finds the APC Richmond Greyhounds in complete disarray: lack of skilled players, an absence of teamwork, and a shortage of motivation. Even so, Ted approaches the season with full faith in the power of positive thinking when he says to his assistant coach upon entering the locker room, “smells like potential.” By focusing on the promise of what can be instead of the history that already happened, Lasso advises the audience that great things will happen if we see the positive.
Put People First – From the first episode, it’s crystal clear that Ted truly cares about everyone in the AFC Richmond organization. The best example of this is how Ted takes the time to get to know Nate Shelley, a lowly kit man who quickly rises to assistant coach. Ted quickly sees not only Nate’s incredible knowledge of the game but his lack of belief in himself. Throughout the first season, Ted slowly but surely builds Nate’s confidence to the point that Nate becomes a leader of the men he once did laundry for. By putting people first, you get the most out of them – always.
Empathy and Compassion – Perhaps the most prevalent and vital part of Ted’s persona is his genuine empathy for others. From the first episode, Lasso takes the time and effort to get to know everyone in the AFC Richmond organization because he knows that he will come to rely on all of them. As usual, Sudeikis, as Lasso says it best: “if you care about someone and you’ve got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” In the series, Ted Lasso teaches us that if you want to make an impact, start with the heart.
Teamwork – Without spoiling the first season for those who haven’t watched, there is a moment of profound sadness for the team. In one brief moment, Coach Lasso underscores the importance of being part of a group by stating, “I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that’s being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.” Without explicitly stating it, this is why being part of a collective is so important to all of us: whether positive or negative, it’s the shared experience.
Ted Lasso doesn’t lead from the perspective of expertise, which is a position far too many leaders take. Instead, he leads with the intent to create the perfect environment possible for the players on his team to be the best humans they can be because Ted Lasso understands that winning is a byproduct of that type of leadership.
I don’t know about you, but I believe in believe.