Leadership Lessons from Ted Lasso

The Google search on this topic is already a couple of pages deep, I know, but having now become a full-out fanatic of the Apple TV show Ted Lasso (a Tedhead maybe?), I still want to highlight the leadership (and life) lessons that I see in it. One thing I noticed from a quick scan of the other articles on this topic is that pieces like this generally reflect the leadership philosophy of the writer as much as they do the show and its creators; I absolutely admit that that’s the case here.

I honestly think you could pull together a really good course using just the first season of Ted Lasso as a source for examples (I’d recommend Tribal Leadership, Speed of Trust, Art of Community and one or more Brené Brown books as texts/lenses for the course). Here are the points I’ve pulled from watching the show for (at least) the fourth time. (I did say I was a fanatic, right?).

  1. Delight in every other person, especially the easily unnoticed. This is something I wrote about from a theological lens a while ago, as part of a series on Pope Francis’ encyclical Fratelli Tutti, and I’ll only add here that from a leadership perspective, one of the fundamental decisions that separates leaders from individual contributors is the choice to focus on the other rather than oneself. If your first thought is about you, you’re not really a leader, in my book, no matter what your org chart says. And if your first thought is about the other, you’ll find yourself leading, no matter your title. Examples: Ted’s investment in Nathan, his attitude toward Trent Crimm, Oly the cab driver/restaraunt worker, Cam Cole the street musician, Shannon the football-playing schoolgirl, and many, many more.
  2. Listen first, and act in response, to build trust. When I started to lead my current team, I implemented a regular anonymous survey. Even though it was a fairly small team and they all knew I was the one reading the results, they told me things I hadn’t heard otherwise. No matter what I thought of what they said, I found ways to acknowledge to the group what I’d heard and that I was taking action on it. I do the surveys less often now, but they are still exceptional listening tools, and I still commit to act on what people raise here. Example: The suggestion box in episode two. While it yields mostly abuse, Ted and Beard act on the one item they get, even though it’s a pretty innocuous one: fixing the shower pressure in the locker room.
  3. Show others that they are seen and known as individuals. To be seen is to be loved. I’m a big fan of Marcus Buckingham and his focus on strengths-based management, but this talk of his, which is far more personal than his standard stuff, says this best. Examples: Celebrating Sam’s birthday with gifts from home, working with Keeley to identify the best way to connect with Jamie.
  4. Meet people where they are but don’t leave them there. Example: The books he gifts each player. Would love to have the list of different books included in that scene, though obviously only one ends up as a plot point.
  5. Make room for others to lead and nudge them that way. This is where Tribal Leadership steps in as such a valuable lens; the authors’ model of leadership (which I appropriate as “connecting people and ideas”) is almost inevitably a scalable one as leaders beget leaders. Examples: The obvious example is how Ted develops Roy as a leader, but later in the series, you see it play out again, as Roy empowers Isaac.
  6. Focus on helping people be the best versions of themselves, rather than focusing on wins and losses. Ted says this, twice, to Trent Crimm in episode three, and I remarked in my other piece on this show about how that resonates with anyone who has read Catholic author Matthew Kelly.
  7. Build a circle of vulnerability and trust and make it a big and inviting one. Everyone is part of the team. This may be the hardest of all of these to implement. Circles of vulnerability are so difficult to develop at any size (witness Brené Brown’s popularity as an author and speaker on this topic), but even more so, building a culture that not only embraces vulnerability but also expands to include others is doubly daunting. Maybe. To the extent that I have seen this happen, the ability for a group to include others fully and vulnerably seems to be directly related to the level of trust in the vulnerability of their leadership and each other. Example: The ceremony in the training room in episode six and the focus on including the whole team, including Rebecca. But you could also point to the few locker room talks depicted – especially in episodes five and ten.
  8. Honor those who disagree with you, even as you disagree. Example: You see this especially in episode nine around the split between Ted vs Beard and Nate around the idea of benching Roy. But this also shows up in how Ted reacts to Rebecca at the end of episode six when Jamie is sent back to Man City.
  9. Build and expand your inner circles. Charles Vogl’s The Art of Community speaks at some length about the importance of inner circles within communities as well as about the need to keep them from becoming insular and isolated. Example: The Diamond Dogs, as a fun manifestation of the way Ted draws Nate and Higgins into the “inner sanctum.”
  10. Be joyous and kind. Example: Dani Rojas. His whole character. But what keeps him from being a caricature, when you think about it, is the degree to which Ted, Sam and Keeley all show those same traits in subtler degrees.
  11. Be curious, not judgmental. This comes from my favorite scene in the entire show and may be the most memorable line of the series to date, but I actually think it’s just a corollary and application of #1 above.
  12. Believe.

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