Insights | 28.06.2021
If you haven’t yet had the great pleasure of watching Apple TV’s, Ted Lasso, I highly recommend it (and if you have watched it, to watch it again!) It is a heartwarming show about an American football coach who moves to England to become a British football (i.e. soccer) coach despite having no experience or knowledge of the sport. Filled with humour and endearing characters, the show centres around Ted Lasso, a Kansan, who emanates positivity and kindness despite personal challenges and the difficult task of turning around an underperforming team.
What could have easily been a caricature of simplicity and naivete, the character of Ted Lasso is far more layered and aware, and we quickly see the secret to his appeal and success. That secret is filled with heart, kindness, vision and managerial wisdom we can all use in our own leadership of our respective teams, athletic or otherwise.
Putting Relationships First
First and foremost, Ted Lasso focuses on relationships. From his boss to the equipment manager to the players, most of whom are less than thrilled he is there, Lasso starts with the basics of learning everyone’s names and building connection through kindness and empathy. He does not judge, and he does not steamroll his way into his new position. Instead, he gets to know everyone as an individual and begins to cultivate relationships with each of them based on who they are. Resistant at first, over time they come around due to Lasso’s sincerity, honesty and commitment to helping them become their best.
In his relationship building, Lasso recognises that some people need more positive reinforcement, some need to be pushed harder and others need a more nurturing approach.
As leaders, relationship building is essential to our success with our team. We need to approach each member of our team as an individual and treat them and build our relationship with them accordingly.
Focusing on Strengths
In that same spirit of knowing his players and treating them as individuals, Ted Lasso focuses on what each of his players’ strengths are and puts them in the best position- literally and figuratively- to utilise those strengths. Whether that involves switching players’ roles, trying new ideas to maximise player strengths or providing opportunities to deepen those strengths, Lasso understands that putting people in positions to do what they do best is instrumental to individual and team success.
This does not mean that he only focuses on strengths. In addition to providing the opportunity for players to do what they do best, Lasso also helps them work on the areas of their game that are holding them back and need working on.
As leaders of our own teams, we need to decide which areas of growth need growing and which ones simply need to be delegated or accepted. Either way, the focus always should be on finding what everyone does best and giving them every opportunity to do that.
Confronting Problems Head On
When relationships on the team are strained, Ted Lasso does not ignore them or simply wish them away. Instead, he confronts the problems head on. When the conflict is between him and a player, he addresses it. When he lashes out at his assistant, he quickly acknowledges his mistake and takes responsibility for it. When two of his star players just cannot seem to get along, he sits them both down and has them work through their issues. He recognises that conflict happens and takes action to make sure the effects of those conflicts do not get in the way of the team’s goals.
He is first and foremost honest and takes responsibility for his own contribution to conflicts. When mediating the conflicts of others, he gives everyone the opportunity to share their experience and he does not take sides, but he does make sure the situation is handled. He understands that no one is above the team and for a team to work effectively, everyone has to respect and support one another.
As leaders, learning how to confront and handle conflict will be essential to our success.
Focusing on the Team
From the communications manager to the fans at the local pub to the owner herself, Ted Lasso recognises that the team extends beyond the players. He works to develop relationships with and among everyone connected to the team and makes sure everyone recognises the importance of their respective roles. He includes others in team rituals and celebrations and works to develop relationships with and among everyone involved.
Lasso understands that no one person can be above another if the the team is to be successful. This is seen most prominently as he tries to humble his star player while lifting up the less confident ones. He reminds them that, while they are trying so hard to become one in a million, they need to remember that they are just one of 11 (the number of players on the field). He focuses on team first and expects his players to do the same. When his star player’s attitude becomes too selfish and detrimental to ignore, Lasso is quick to bench him despite the significant and inevitable backlash he receives. Lasso sends the message in both his words and his actions that no one is above the team.
As leaders, our role is not just to develop each member of our team but to develop the team as a whole, being sure to appreciate the unique, invaluable contribution each member brings.
Being Curious, Not Judgmental
In a pivotal scene when someone underestimates him, Ted Lasso explains the importance of being curious, not judgmental. He is aware that others make judgments about him and what he is capable of and warns about the danger in doing this. As leaders and as human beings, we are all too guilty of doing this. It is easy to make assumptions and judgments about others and ascribe intent to why they are doing- or not doing- what we expect. This gets us in all kinds of trouble because our assumptions are frequently wrong. We miss out on hiring strong people and we damage our relationships with those we have hired and work with based on these assumptions.
As leaders we need to adopt an approach of curiosity rather than judgment, taking the time to be genuinely curious and understand those around us. We need to ask good questions, get to know people and listen to what they say. This is true in our work with our teams as well as our work with our colleagues, partners, clients and leadership.
Learning from a Goldfish
After an embarrassing mistake that left one of his struggling players dejected, Coach Lasso tells him to be like a goldfish. He explains (erroneously as it turns out, but the point is clear) that goldfish have the shortest memory of any animal, implying that the player should simply forget his mistake and move on. The player knows he made a mistake and is already down on himself about it. Berating him or further embarrassing him would not do any good and Lasso knows that. Instead, he encourages him to brush it off and keep on going.
As leaders, it is important for us to understand how to effectively handle mistakes. Too often, when our staff are already aware and already feeling bad about the mistake, we make things worse by criticising them and continuing to bring it up instead of encouraging them to learn from those mistakes and move on. Just like a goldfish. We need to remember and remind our team that mistakes are necessary for growth and learning and that they should be encouraged, not avoided or chastised.
Believing in the Team
One of the first things Coach Lasso does when he settles into his new office is tape up a handmade yellow sign- symbolically simple and imperfect but powerful- that states, “Believe”. Even though the team is struggling and facing massive odds, he focuses on a message of belief in themselves and in one another. He also matches his actions with his words and shows his players how much he believes in them through positive encouragement and never giving up on them. He even goes so far as to share with an incredulous reporter that he cares far less about wins and losses than he does about developing his players.
As leaders, the mantra, people don’t care about what you know until they know that you care is as true in American football as it is in British football as it is on the team that you lead. When you genuinely believe in your team, they will believe in your ability to lead them.