I have never been a soccer fan, or should I say fútbol?  So, when I was encouraged to watch the original Apple TV+ program, Ted Lasso, about a transplanted American coach hired by an English soccer club owner with dubious motives, I was skeptical, but I reluctantly agreed.  Even then, I procrastinated. I’m not about to spend my valuable time watching a streaming show.  Why would I be interested in this story?  At my wife’s constant urging, I finally called it up and began watching.  After 15 minutes of season 1 episode 1, I realized what the hype was about.  And it wasn’t about sports.  It wasn’t about soccer (fútbol).  It wasn’t even about an American living in England.  It was something totally different.  Really different. And it was good.  I mean very good.

It was a show about learning how to lead.  It was about changing culture.  It was about changing an organization.  It was about getting the players to be the best version of themselves.  It was about putting the team first.  As a former athlete myself, the lessons were particularly relevant to me since they were delivered through the medium of professional sports.  They are lessons and habits all of us should practice.  Some of them could have come from renowned management scholars like Frederick Taylor, Max Weber, or Douglas McGregor.  But these great lessons were delivered by the hero of the show, soccer coach Ted Lasso, played brilliantly by actor and comedian Jason Sudeikis.

Ted Lasso is an American college football coach from Wichita, Kansas, who is hired to coach AFC Richmond, an English soccer team. He is frequently ridiculed for his folksy optimism and inexperience with the sport, but gradually wins people over through his kind and compassionate approach to coaching.  Here are some of the biggest lessons we can learn from Ted:

  • Show you are vulnerable – Lasso’s simple and unpretentious way of acknowledging his vulnerabilities is one of his strongest attributes. This allows you to get and accept help from a variety of sources.  Admitting your mistakes and being open about your feelings fosters trust and connection within your team.
  • Good Ideas can come from anywhere – By acknowledging his shortcomings, Lasso is able to clearly see the strengths of those around him. As a result, he’s willing to accept suggestions from people throughout his organization, not just those at the leadership level. Early in the series, Ted solicits and accepts a strategy from the club’s equipment manager.  This strategy proves successful, and the equipment manager becomes part of the coaching staff.
  • Be a “Goldfish” – One of the most repeated lessons in the series, and Lasso’s most recognizable one is to “be a goldfish.” Because of the short-term memory of the goldfish, it is one of the happiest creatures on earth.  The Goldfish teaches us not to dwell on our mistakes and constantly worry about our performance evaluations.  Learn from your mistakes, then let them go and move on.  Don’t dwell on mistakes or let them define you.
  • Inspire confidence – As a leader, Lasso’s infectious joy and unrelenting support spreads confidence around the locker room. He teaches us to be ourselves.  We shouldn’t be constrained by a “job description.”  What Ted does brilliantly is he sees each person uniquely and individually for who they are and what their strengths and vulnerabilities are.  He lets his players play to their strengths and thus inspires them.  Focus on the strengths of your team members and help them grow by providing encouragement and support. When you empower your team to succeed, you create a positive environment where everyone can thrive.
  • Doing the right thing is never wrong – Ethics and morals of the leader inspire the ethics and morals of the staff and the organization. In a world filled with ethical dilemmas and gray areas, prioritizing integrity and moral values is crucial. Make decisions based on what is right and fair, not just what is convenient or profitable.
  • Never stop learning – When Ted first arrives to coach Richmond, he knows little about soccer. By the final season, he is a fútbol savant.  The challenge for real-life leaders is allowing themselves to have a beginner mindset and not pretend to be an expert in every challenge that arises.  By staying teachable, you’ll foster a culture of curiosity and adaptability that can help your team navigate an ever-changing business landscape.
  • “Be curious, not judgmental.” – This is complimentary to “Never Stop Learning.” Ted uses this quote from Walt Whitman to express his frustration that most people in his life have second-guessed his ability without getting to know him. They simply judged him without understanding him.  This is the art of critical thinking – admitting you might have a blind spot.  Ask questions.  The answers, and where they come from, might surprise, and enlighten you.

Through these leadership practices, Ted was able to transform AFC Richmond into a winning team, a winning organization, and a winning culture.  Everyone, from the owner to the clubhouse manager, took their own journey to become a better version of themselves through Ted’s leadership.  However, there was one last transformation that needed to take place – ironically it was that of Ted himself.  Behind his affable nature and folksy optimism, Ted was dealing with his own journey be the best he could be.

While the organization and its people were transforming through his leadership, Ted had to learn the self-awareness to practice his own leadership lessons on himself.  By learning to be vulnerable with himself, always learning, and being curious, Ted gradually transformed himself into the complete leader we all need to be.  He had to become truly self-aware because leadership in the digital era is a 360-degree operation.  You need to not only make an organization and its people better versions of themselves; you also need to make yourself the best version of you.  That is your continuous journey as a digital leader.

Ted Lasso is the leader we should all be. A leader who mixes optimism, motivation, humor, and vulnerability, into a powerful tool to accomplish the goal of making everyone a better version of themselves.  A leader who makes the organization the best version of itself.  He is also a leader who is on a continuous journey to be the best version of himself as well.  Be that leader.  Be Ted Lasso.

Tag/s:Business Transformation, Education, Organizational Change, Personal Development,