7 Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso
If you haven’t watched the tv show Ted Lasso on Apple TV, you need to stop what you’re doing right now and binge all 3 seasons. I don’t care if you’re at work, at the gym, or talking to a friend. Watch it!
The show is about how American college football coaching staff Ted Lasso (Jason Sudeikis) and Coach Beard (Walt Whitman) from Kansas City get hired to coach an English football club named AFC Richmond. Knowing nothing about soccer, they take on the challenge. Because of his unique coaching style and passion for player development, by the end of the season they start finding success.
After every episode, I leave inspired. I feel like I can do anything. Overcome any challenge. Be a better version of myself. Be a better leader. Make an impact in the world! Even in the moments of doubt, fear, failure, tough decisions, hopelessness, vulnerability, and heartache I know It’s going to be okay, because Ted will figure it out. If he can’t, he has people around him that are on his team. They support him no matter what. They rise up when he is down. Because that is what teams do!
How Can I Become a Better Leader Like Ted Lasso?
After watching the season 3 finale, I thought to myself, how do I become a great leader like Ted Lasso?
Yes, he has his flaws and issues. He isn’t perfect, but I think that’s the point. None of us are perfect. We aren’t perfect leaders, and we don’t have perfect teams. So the question becomes, how can we take imperfect leaders and imperfect team members and create success?
So below are 7 leadership lessons I gleaned from Ted Lasso that I believe can increase your leadership potential and create winning teams. The thing I love about these lessons…they aren’t some new techniques, or creative twist on old ones, or something we found out from a new assessment.
They are really built on one belief…Your team really is your greatest asset. Not for what they can do, but for who they can become!
1. In order to lead at a higher level, we must get to know our team on a deeper level!
The first of the leadership lessons from Ted Lasso is to care for your “players” as individuals, not just athletes. Ted takes time to learn about their personal lives, struggles, and hopes, which fosters a sense of trust and loyalty among the team members.
As a coach, I always challenge leaders to have one-on-ones with their direct reports and coworkers. Don’t make it about performance, or strategy, or even work. Just get to know them! If the foundation for teamwork is trust, then how do you start to trust someone? You have to get to know them. No one is walking down the street and meets a stranger and immediately trusts them. If you do, you shouldn’t. There is a reason that stranger-danger is a thing! Why don’t you trust them? Because you don’t know them.
So getting to know the people you work with on a deeper level over a consistent period of time, mixed with appropriate sharing and vulnerability, builds trust. Not only are we trying to build trust with our team, but getting to know our team members better also helps us know how to put them in positions where they are using their strengths. We now have the ability to help them develop a career path for where they want to end up. All of this is a win-win. If we invest in our people, they will become our biggest cheerleader.
2. Standing in the confidence gap for your team, exponentially builds your leadership credibility!
Ted consistently expresses his belief in his team’s potential, even when they or others doubt themselves. This optimism can motivate team members to strive for their best and to not give up when faced with adversity. I am usually a pretty optimistic and confident person, but there was a point in my life my confidence was lower than it had ever been. I was depressed, I couldn’t make even simple decisions, it was awful. My wife turned to me and said,
“I know you don’t believe in you right now, but I will believe for you until you can again. Because I do!”
That was huge for me. Everyone needs someone like that in their life! Someone who can stand in the gap for you until you are ready to fight again.
I try to live my life in such a way that after people have interacted with me, they are better for it. Even as I type that, it sounds very pious. What I mean is: I want people to feel uplifted, supported, a shot of energy, like they have a new friend, someone new on their side. I want them to know that someone believes in them. Ted’s positive outlook is infectious and helps to foster a healthy, supportive team culture. Despite setbacks and challenges, he continually stresses the importance of enjoying the game and treating each other with respect.
3. Focus on building up individuals and the results will come!
The third of the leadership lessons from Ted Lasso is to focus on building the individuals. Winning isn’t everything for Ted. Instead, he gives a master class on helping his team members become the best versions of themselves. His focus on character development over short-term success speaks to a long-term, sustainable approach to leadership. We see this firsthand in the finale, the juxtaposition between Rupert Manion’s will to win at any cost and Ted’s 3-year investment in the players of Richmond.
Ted shows us that it is just as important (if not more) to focus on creating great teammates, instead of star athletes!
If you just said in your head that “great teammates” don’t make the sales numbers or whatever the goal is, I would beg to differ. Whether it’s a star player or a rockstar salespeople, they are few and far between. There was only one Jamie Tartt, or one Zava, in a locker room and even they aren’t bringing their “A-game” every day. Chances are you don’t have a team full of rockstars. If you do, I would love to meet and learn from the master. The truth is most of the people on your team are good, dependable, hardworking people who want to be great at their job. I don’t think anyone gets up in the morning and says they really want to suck today or miss deadlines. Great leaders, like Ted, help them rise to their full potential. The boat rises with a rising tide.
Character development isn’t something that is talked about much in the business world. I think leaders believe that it isn’t their place or responsibility to help develop character in their teams. It is more on their friends or family members or spouses to do. I would disagree.
Ted Lasso Leadership Principle: Coach Character.
For example, I coached high school football for 2 years and pee-wee tackle football for 3 years in Texas. I coached more character than football some seasons. A team is a group of individuals that work together to accomplish a common goal. Whether it is sales numbers, operations, safety, accounting, or winning a championship.
As I am writing this post, I just finished my 3 year of coaching pee wee football. We had really talented kids on that team, but we came one game short of making it to the 4th grade super bowl. It wasn’t because of a shortage of talent, it was because our talented kids struggled to let the rest of the team support their talent. They were worried about their individual stats instead of team success. If they had a good game, they didn’t care if we lost. They blamed everyone else. If they had a bad game, they blamed the refs or the play calling.
Character issues is something that no talent can offset when it comes to being a teammate!
If we can coach it in football, why can’t we coach it in business! This is why it is so important that companies have values! Values are the expectations of how we do work. I coach clients all the time about when they are hiring, the number one thing we are looking for first…do they fit your core values and culture? I would rather employees always do the right thing, and sometimes fail to do things the right way.
4. When your team has autonomy and the power to make great things happen, they will!
Ted isn’t afraid of failure and doesn’t let it define him or his team. He sees it as an opportunity to learn and improve. This helps create an environment where team members feel safe to take risks and make mistakes. One of the best leaders I ever worked for told me when he hired me, “I don’t care if you fail, as long as you learn from it and fail forward!” We produced some of the greatest things that company has ever produced, just because of that. I wasn’t scared to take risks, I was never worried that he was going to call me into his office and threaten to fire me, he said there will always be a safety net (within reason of course).
When your team has autonomy and empowerment to go make things happen, they will. Unfortunately, most leaders struggle with this because of 2 things:
- They don’t have control.
- They don’t want to coach through the failure.
If you want to stay small and never grow, this is a safe plan and it will work. However, if you want to grow, scale, and retain top talent, this has to take place. The first season I coached; we were playing the best team in the league. I was coaching defense and my kids weren’t doing anything that we had worked on the whole previous week to prepare for this game. We were supposed to be playing zone defense and they were playing man. Kids were lining up in the wrong spots. The game plan I had created was perfect to beat this team, but no one was following it except me.
Ted Lasso Coaching Principle: What You See Is What You Coached.
When I was coaching high school football, in the coaches’ office we had a giant sign that said, “What you see is what you coached!”
I was so frustrated at the kids for not following our game plan, then out of nowhere I remembered that sign. I realized that I had put a high school game plan together for a 4th grade team. It’s too complicated. Each player had rules and responsibilities for passing plays and different ones for run plays. Weak side players had different coverages than strong side players.
So I called a timeout, got all of them around me and told them this was on me! I messed up. From now until the rest of the game we are going to play a base defense. If you think you can blitz and make the tackle in the back field, do it. If you think you can cover a guy one-on-one, do it. I won’t be mad if you take a risk and fail, just make sure you communicate with your teammates.
It was like a 1,000 lb weight had been lifted off their shoulders. They were excited to play again. They weren’t worried about making a mistake, but free to make quick decisions as they saw fit. Our defense shut their offense down for the rest of the game. I would love to tell you we won that game, but we didn’t. It was a learning lesson for me and I never made that mistake again. Sometimes we need to give our team and ourselves permission just to go for it, and be there if they fail.
5. The Fifth of the Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso is to be Authentic.
Ted is unapologetically himself. His authenticity is part of what makes him a unique and effective leader. Authentic leaders build trust, create open lines of communication, and inspire those they lead. Let’s just be honest for a second, Ted being Ted is what makes this show so great! The same thing is true for you and me. Being unapologetically ourselves is one of the best things we can give our teams and our company.
The most obvious example is Coach Shelley. He starts the show as a genuinely kind and humble kitman for AFC Richmond. Because of his brilliant strategic mind, he gets promoted to assistant coach. However, when they start to win, the confidence goes to his head. He ends up leaving Richmond and gets hired at West Ham by the team’s owner Rupert Manion.
When that happens you start to see the internal struggle he faces in how he presents himself. He becomes more cocky, arrogant, and honestly just a jerk. His leadership style becomes more of a command and demand approach. However, that’s not him! He is just trying to be who Rupert wants him to be. Finally, because he can’t take it anymore, he leaves. It wasn’t worth it.
If we have to be someone else to get what we think we want. We will be living someone else’s life, and eventually, we will leave because it’s not worth it. We have to start seeing that our uniqueness, brings value.
Everyone can have great work ethic, knowledge, and skills. But how we combine all that with our unique perspective, personality, and past experiences is what brings our unique value.
That is the differentiator. The best teams are unique, they have something that no one else has…YOU!
6. Building a plane on the way up can be a competitive advantage!
Despite being an American football coach initially unfamiliar with soccer, Ted stays open to learning the nuances of the new sport and adapts his leadership approach accordingly. This leadership lesson from Ted Lasso teaches us that good leaders are life-long learners and adapters.
When I think about my career journey, I laugh because it is so eclectic. I was a high school football coach and teacher, then a pastor. Then I went into sales. And finally ended up in coaching and training. (Like I said… Eclectic.)
However, I realized that everything I had done before prepared me for where I am today. I jumped headfirst into four different industries throughout my career.
Before I became a teacher, I had never taught kids before (which is actually kind of scary). (Incidentally, see Team-Building Activities for Teachers for ways to make your next in-service more fun.)
Before I became a pastor, I didn’t even know the first thing about it.
I had never sold anything and been paid for it a day in my life before I got into sales. But I love a challenge!
I didn’t know how it was going to end up, but I will always bet on myself and my ability to learn. At the end of my first year in sales, I had sold $3MM. It was more than any 1st-year salesperson in the company’s history. All of those past experiences led to my success in that new role.
I had seen what worked and didn’t work in other industries to help guide my decisions in a different way than what they were used to. Because I was learning about a new industry alongside people who had been there for decades, I had an open mind and fresher perspective on how we did things. I was able to innovate and improve on systems and processes that had been in place for 20 years.
7. The Last of the Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso Is to Focus on Giving Awards Instead of Getting Them!
Ted never made their success about him but gave away the credit. On the flip side, he always took responsibility for their losses. He understood that you win and you lose as a team.
An unbridled ego can be detrimental to the fabric of a team. When the balance between individual ambition and collective team goals skews towards the former, the team’s harmony is at risk. Ego-driven behavior is the prioritization of personal accolades over the success of the team.
This often emerges in the form of hogging credit for team accomplishments or shifting blame when outcomes are unfavorable. Such actions disrupt the team’s morale, sparking a toxic undercurrent of resentment and dissatisfaction. This toxicity can stagnate the team’s productivity, and ultimately, impact the organization’s bottom line.
Ego also poses a barrier to effective communication, a cornerstone of successful teamwork. An ego-driven individual may be dismissive of others’ inputs, force their ideas aggressively, or reject criticism, undermining the exchange of innovative ideas. Such behaviors suppress creativity and growth, ultimately leading to failure.
Furthermore, ego can foster a culture of blame instead of a culture of accountability within teams. When errors occur, the finger-pointing begins, shifting focus from troubleshooting to protecting one’s image. This impairs the team’s ability to learn from mistakes and adapt, critical aspects for any team striving for sustainable success. Let’s be honest, everyone knows that person whose ego is so big their head can’t fit through the door. Nobody wants to be around them, work with them, much less be led by them! They aren’t good partners or a good team player.
Apply these Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso to Build a Fun Team Culture at Your Office.
I think a common misconception in leadership is that great leaders make things happen in order for success to occur. However, I think Ted Lasso shows us the exact opposite is true. Great leaders invest in people so THEY can make great things happen.
People are our greatest asset. Not for what they can do, but for who they can become. If we see our people as puppets and we are the puppet master, if we see them as someone who can get us a certain number at the end of every month, or how they make us look to the board in trying to get a promotion, we have missed it.
Do we want to win? Yes. Do we want to produce great results? Yes. But if we have to leave a trail of bodies behind us to do that, it’s not worth it! At the end of the day I want to be remembered for how I invested in people to become their best self, and because of that we did great things! This is an investment in them, whether they are at my company or not.