Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso

Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso

Have you heard of Ted Lasso?

Have you seen it?

I’ve been late to the party and am up-to-date after quite a binge this last couple of weeks.

For those that don’t know, Ted Lasso is an Apple TV comedy/drama of an American football coach hired to manage a British soccer team. He doesn’t know the sport, the rules, or much about the culture.

What he lacks in the hard facts he more than makes up for it in the soft skills.

Ted Lasso is an example of positive, conscious leadership, a leader with emotional intelligence (EQ), that’s equally applicable in business organizations as it is on the football/soccer pitch.

He plays an upbeat, positive, outgoing American rah-rah stereotype.

The stereotype aside, there are loads of leadership lessons anyone can use starting immediately.

Let’s start with a definition first.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

EQ (or EI) is, according to the English Oxford Living Dictionary, “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”. The concept was popularized in the 1996 book Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

It’s the overarching term to describe four concepts: the ability to know one’s emotions, manage one’s emotions, understand the emotions of other people, and manage relationships with others.

Building Psychological Safety

What is exemplary about Ted Lasso is his understanding and creation of psychological safety for his team and the colleagues with whom he works.

Psychological safety is the shared belief of being safe within a team/system, in this case a soccer team, where you know you can risk and dare and be vulnerable without fear of negative repercussions.

The psychological safety amongst a team is most important for the interpersonal risks inherent in a team – risk associated with expressing ideas, asking questions, admitting mistakes and speaking up.

Tips for building psychological safety that Ted exhibits are:

  • Learning people’s names and using them;
  • Asking people questions that have them reveal more of themselves than usual. For example, what’s your favourite book? What’s the first gig you ever attended? Favourite gig?
  • Sharing aspects of himself, some of which don’t paint him in the best light possible or show some of his vulnerabilities;
  • Articulating clearly his intentions about what he’s trying to do when appropriate;
  • Focusing on improvement, learning from mistakes, and belief.

Finding Right

This is a concept I learned during my training to become a facilitator and team coach. It’s something I see Ted Lasso doing very often.

Finding right is about finding something positive in whatever someone else says or does. Sounds extreme. It’s not about agreeing when you don’t agree. It’s about finding something positive in what they said, how they said it or who they are being during it.

Ted often asks for input from others both for new ideas and to get them on board to his way of thinking. When he gets an answer that’s not correct or not what he’s looking for he’ll say something like “that’s a great idea, just not the one I’m looking for” or “I appreciate you weighing in” or “love you jumping in but nope, that’s not it.” All said with eye contact, softness in is face, and a light tone.

I’d suggest to the writers for Ted not to use the word BUT in these sentences. When ‘but’ is used in a sentence in our minds it often negates everything that comes before it. Instead use ‘and’ as ‘and’ infers both sides of the sentence have merit or equal weight. Notice the buts, try and.

Clarifying a Vision and How to Get There

Leaders share both context and content; they own the context more so than the workers; if leaders aren’t mentioning the vision few other people are talking about it. Simon Sinek talks about explaining the WHY to people, before getting into the WHAT; before them doing what you want them to do, they need to understand why they are doing it.

In season 3 (that’s series 3 in the UK) Ted changes tactics for how the team should play (trying not to spoil anything 😉). In making this change, he had his assistant coach explain the history and origins of the strategy. This helped the team understand from where this change was coming and the merits of the tactics.

Ted then went on to explain how they’d use these tactics in their team. The vision and path were made clear with the rationale for why he felt it was right. Very helpful as a means of getting people onboard for a change.

By the way, this tactic has its basis in a question that’s useful for all of us to consider – What does this situation need? It’s a good question for each of us to reflect on in at any given moment. What does this situation need of me at this moment?

Being Open and Vulnerable

This is the scariest for many leaders, heck, for many people in general.

Ted’s vulnerability has unfolded over the course of the 2.5 seasons. He was open with aspects of himself such as favourite books, gigs, movies, about his moustache, his previous work – very factual things. He was less open emotionally initially. As he created emotional safety for the team and colleagues he started to reveal more about himself.

Ted was also forced to be open near the end of season 2 when something about Ted’s mental health made headlines in the news. When asked about it at a press conference Ted was typical Ted, using the opportunity to raise awareness for mental health in sports in a positive way. Ted later apologized to his team for not having told them personally, and for them to have found out through the media. He says sorry sincerely and when meaningful, more often than many leaders might find comfortable.

The key is to know when to be open and when to stay at a distance. An easy example of this is that leaders would do well to join their team for a drink after a team away day and to ensure the leader leaves before the majority have left so that the team can relax and bond without the leader.

In Summary

Slight spoiler alert about end of season 3. A great summary of Ted’s leadership effect is summarized by Trent Crimm, a writer shadowing the team, who says the following a meaningful game where the team played like a team:

“You haven’t switched tactics in a week, you’ve done this over 3 seasons, slowly but surely building a club-wide culture of trust and support through 1000’s of imperceptible moments all leading to their inevitable conclusion”

What leadership lessons would you share?

What makes you positive and upbeat?

What aspects of leadership would help you?

Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you could develop your emotional intelligence further to motivate and inspire your teams to achieve.