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What Can We Learn About Leadership from Ted Lasso?

By Jacquelyn Adams

As the FIFA World Cup in Qatar comes to a close, my thoughts return to another form of televised sports entertainment that took the world by storm. By this I mean the Apple TV+ series, Ted Lasso. I am in Ted Lasso withdrawal as I wait for Season 3 to finally grace us with its presence. The fictional American football coach turned English Premier League soccer coach has won the hearts of many with his humor, relentless optimism, and huge truth bombs. As I was rewatching the series (seriously, Season 3, where are you???), I was struck by what an exceptional coach Ted is, especially considering he was put in such an impossible situation. So, I thought we would take a moment to consider the qualities that make Ted such a tremendous leader.

Assess Shortcomings

Ted Lasso never lets his pride get in the way of doing his job well. As a football coach turned soccer coach, he doesn’t know everything… actually, he knows almost nothing about soccer when he starts. However, he does still know how to engage with his team. He understands how to challenge — when to push, when to back off, and sometimes when he needs someone else to push. Ted is always happy to accept good advice, whether from the team’s owner or the kit man. He doesn’t put on airs and pretend that he knows it all. There is no facade. The kit man, a relative nobody, who was previously only bullied or ignored, becomes a trusted advisor. The team captain is challenged to take on his mantel of leadership, rather than simply relying on the coach. He creates a group called the Diamond Dogs for the specific purpose of conferring with his fellow colleagues. By acknowledging his limitations, and listening to those around him, he is able to lead the team to the best of his ability.

Be Positive, but not Toxic

When I say Ted is relentlessly optimistic, it would be fair to cringe in anticipation. In cinema, we get so many examples of optimistic people who are out of touch with reality. Their glasses are rose-colored, while the rest of the world is burning. Fortunately, Ted doesn’t abide with this garden variety optimist. One of my favorite scenes is after a very hard loss for the team. They are rightfully devastated. And so he spoke to what they are all feeling at that moment, “Lift your heads up and look around this locker room. Look at everybody else in here. And I want you to be grateful that you are going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you that there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and sad. Ain’t nobody in this room alone.” He didn’t diminish their feelings or their struggle. He didn’t come in and magically fix it or even try to. For all of his positivity, belief in “believe,” and silly antics, he encourages them to sit together in their disappointment… and it is so beautiful and meaningful.

Speak the Truth

As I considered Ted Lasso’s ability to help people hear the truth, another extraordinary person came to mind: Mr. Rogers. At a previous job, I would hear coworkers say, “Don’t give me the Mr. Roger’s version,” and by this they meant the sugar-coated version. I can only assume these people never actually watched Mr. Rogers, and made assumptions simply because it was a kids’ show. Mr. Rogers was a man ahead of his time discussing topics like disabilities, race, and divorce in ways that made it accessible for kids.

While Ted Lasso is a much sillier character, both men are unafraid to discuss difficult things. Ted worked to understand people so that he could crack through hard shells and tell them things they needed to hear. One example is the pep talk he delivered to one player, “I think you might be so sure that you are one in a million that you forget that out there you are just one of eleven. You just figure out some way to turn that me into an us… the sky’s the limit for you,” and all of this was sandwiched with praise. Or his fantastic speech about being curious, not judgmental. He refuses to be intimidated into silence, but in each situation speaks the truth with compassion, a trait that is far too rare.

I don’t know that I have ever watched a show that made me laugh so hard while also having so much depth and truth. It seriously hits you in the feels sometimes. And Ted Lasso is at the epicenter of this storm of awesomeness. So, this week, maybe some of that awesomeness can rub off on all of us as we try to be a bit more like Ted Lasso.

Jacquelyn Adams

Jacquelyn Adams, founder and CEO of Ristole, uses her column to delve into the wild world of leadership. Whether the article is about her days as a Peace Corp volunteer, exploring corporate training, or even grabbing lunch at Chipotle — she will come out with a story and her “top tips.” As she passionately believes in leveraging her platform to share others’ voices, her column welcomes guest bloggers to create a fuller and more diverse pool of experiences for her readership. So, welcome to “Lessons on Leadership” where you never know what the next article will hold: online networking advice, guidelines for creating a joyful workplace, or even puppies. Just keep reading to discover what’s next!

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  1. OMG, since completing a Diploma Course in Coaching, I am hyper-sensistive to all the pretentious commercial PAP relating to Coaching, Leadership, Mindfulness and all the diverse self-help gurus selling their “secrets” for eternal happiness, fame and fortune. (Clearly, most of them “successful” millionaires !!!).

    So I am rather disappointed to find my so professional IEEE plumbing the depths of Apple TV comedy series on 16 December 2022. What next might we expect for 2023 ?!? Meanwhile, Happy New Year 2023, IEEE collegues all…

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