Ted Lasso – A Serious Leadership Lesson from a Seriously Entertaining TV Show

(Image Credit – AppleTV Plus)

The Trailer Didn’t Move Me But I Gave In

Several people recommended the Apple TV show Ted Lasso. I must admit, the previews didn’t catch my eye.  Jason Sudeikis plays an American Football coach who goes to England to coach/manage Premier League soccer.

The Trailer:

Sure, I could see how there would be a few chuckle-worthy lines and situations. Even in a COVID-19 lockdown, though, I only have time for so many streaming shows. After the fourth trusted recommendation, and having run out of other options – (The Queen’s Gambit is AWESOME BTW) I gave in.

Funny, Sweet, and One Big Leadership Lesson

Not only do my wife and I love the show, but there is a great lesson about leadership in it.  You see, Ted Lasso really knows NOTHING about English football.  Literally nothing.  He took the job because he was offered a ton of money and wanted the challenge.  Of course, what he doesn’t know is that the team’s owner wants the team to fail and did this as a publicity stunt.

The naysayers – fans, players, press, kids, all of whom immediately just start calling him “Wanker” – have no respect for his soccer resume or American Football success. What they don’t realize, though, is that Coach Lasso may not understand soccer technique or strategy, but he understands people, and teams, and what it means to lead. It also helps that he is so darn nice that people almost can’t help but be won over by him.

(A little disappointed that I’m not the first person to realize there are lessons we can learn from Coach Lasso!!! An article from Entrepreneur: Lessons from Ted Lasso on Leadership)

What Ted Lasso and Vince Lombardi Have in Common – Love

I get it – not everyone can be that damn sweet and charming, but you don’t have to be.  I’m a big Vince Lombardi fan.  Most people think of him of the tough, loud, disciplinarian you see on the old film reels. In reality he was all of those things, but if you ask his players, they’d tell you that he also cared deeply about them as a team, and as individuals. 

He set the bar high and you’d better commit to the team and do the work, but if you were committed, he loved you and showed it. One of my favorite Lombardi quotes:

“Teamwork is what the Green Bay Packers were all about.  They didn’t do it for individual glory.  They did it because they loved one another.”

Lombardi understood what players needed to excel. Some needed pushed. Some needed a hug.  All of those great Green Bay Packers, to a man, loved their coach and spoke of him with great reverence – not because of his strategic brilliance, but because he created a sense of team and showed them what it took to excel. He talked a lot about the love shared by a team.

Blog: The Myth of the Strong Charismatic Physician Leader

Connection is More Important than Strategy

Ted Lasso is a charming character.  More importantly, he understands that people, even those who might be tough to relate to, or seem to only value their autonomy and aren’t’ naturally inclined to collaborate and support their colleagues…..really WANT to be part of something bigger than themselves.

How does a leader create this situation – where people feel valued, motivated to excel, and to support the organization and their colleagues?  By connecting with people, by making them feel valued, by understanding what motivates them, by challenging them to be better, by demonstrating humility, integrity, and honesty.  Yes, sometimes by being kind and sometimes by being tough, but by always sincerely caring – and showing it.

Did you notice that the list did not include “by knowing more than everyone” or “by being the expert and an outstanding player in your own right”…because Ted Lasso shows us that sometimes, the technical stuff is almost meaningless, compared to the “people” stuff.

Learning How to Lead

Coach Lasso is a natural people person, but I guarantee you that he had to learn lessons over the years about what works, and what doesn’t as a leader. Any personality can lead – but every great leader has to learn to do things that may not be easy, or comfortable.

Leadership is a skill, a talent, that needs to be honed. Vince Lombardi was not born a great leader. he worked at it. He failed at times. He made mistakes, but he saw coaching as an exercise in leadership – leadership as a “profession” if you will – that you practice, like you practice medicine, or law.

Blog: PRACTICING Leadership

Watch Ted Lasso.  I highly recommend it.  It’s funny.  It’s sweet.  You’ll see the point I’m making. The situation is a bit unrealistic, but hey, to make a point, most stories are.  Plus, admit it, you’ve burned through your entire Netflix watchlist at this point….

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