The Ted Lasso football pitch: Leadership lessons for professionals

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If you’re a person who takes comfort from movies and TV, Ted Lasso and his epic lessons on the football pitch came at the perfect time. Stuck at home, adapting to circumstances both out of our control and involving life or death stakes, the first season of Ted Lasso’s fish-out-of-water-story with a silver lining was nothing short of a gift.

After a considerable wait and more change, we’re in the midst of Ted Lasso’s second season. Once again, our mustachioed friend is bringing subtle and not so subtle wisdom about how to be a leader, team player, and how not to be a loser.

There are even tips on how to lose and still win. As ever, we won’t spill any spoilers here.

Are you ready to run the field and score some knowledge?

Ted Lasso leadership: Drawing professional insight from entertainment

Anyone who’s worked on a team or at any level of leadership understands that getting people to change can be dicey.

The beauty of Ted Lasso is that the characters are imperfect, just like us. They screw up, misunderstand, and evolve.

None of us want to feel foolish, and our unwillingness to be vulnerable, or in a position of weakness often creates unnecessary stagnation. Enter Ted: affable, persistent, and resolutely himself, the perfect teacher.

We aren’t above giving you a sneak peek at the top leadership lessons from Ted Lasso:

  1. Acceptance
  2. Individuality
  3. Compassion
  4. Challenges
  5. Attitude
  6. Leadership
  7. Vision
  8. Limitations
  9. Expectations
  10. The power to choose how you respond to circumstances

(Just like I suppose you could choose to stop reading at this point.)

“Be a goldfish”: Leadership via Ted Lasso

Leadership lesson #1: Expect both the unexpected and the predictable

“That’s the funny thing about coincidences, ain’t it? Sometimes they just happen.”— Ted Lasso

Ted has what at times feels like infinite patience, when in fact he’s simply more ok with the idea that we aren’t in control of every little thing. As life from every angle has been rattled by supply chain failures, staffing challenges, and rapidly evolving workplace dynamics, Ted’s perspective holds a lot of water.

Things are going to happen, some will give us a leg up, others will feel like a penalty. On the field with Lasso you adapt, understanding you still bring talent and potential with you – even on a bumpy ride.

Leadership lesson #2: Don’t conform

“I always thought that tea was just gonna taste like hot brown water. And you know what? I was right. It’s horrible. No, thank you.” — Ted Lasso

There will be times when it makes sense to adapt; there will also be times when something isn’t a fit. When a trend, tool, or idea is completely antithetical to who you are, it’s ok to tap out. Reassert who you are ,and why, and move on.

Leadership lesson #3: Support and empathy always have a place in the workplace

“I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad. And that is being alone and sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.”— Ted Lasso

We can’t make things perfect for every co-worker, employee, or client. Let me repeat that: we cannot make things perfect.

What we can do is make people feel less alone. We can do this through inclusion, recognition, or even just sitting quietly in solidarity.

Each time we pause to help someone endure or work through an awful moment, we come away with an increased capacity for considering the experience of others.

Leadership lesson #4: Challenging yourself is a must

“Hey, takin’ on a challenge is a lot like ridin’ a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doin’ it wrong.” — Ted Lasso

When we said at the beginning of this post that life has been out of control, presenting us with situations outside of our comfort zones—that’s not going to stop any time soon.

It doesn’t matter how competent or talented you are, leveling up is a recurring demand.

If you allow yourself to believe that everything should feel comfortable and doable at all times, you’ve already stopped growing. Don’t let a little uncertainty prevent you from achieving your full potential.

Leadership lesson #5: Attitudes can be changed

“He thinks he’s mad now, wait til we win him over.”
“He’ll. Be. Furious.” —Ted Lasso and Beard

The thing about working with other humans is that ‘attitude’ is going to happen. It might be the kind of attitude that’s negative and defeating. There are also attitudes that inhibit collaboration. The wisdom here is that attitudes should be seen as temporary; something that can be altered or influenced.

Leadership lesson #6: Listen and consider

“I want you to know I value each of your opinions, even when you’re wrong.” —Ted Lasso

Quarantine has made certain aspects of listening easier to avoid, but avoidance won’t work forever.

As a member of a team or a leader of a department, listening to the feedback and ideas of other people is a part of the deal.

Most of us have probably been guilty of anticipating what a person was going to say before they said it (or if we’re honest before they even came into the room – or Zoom). Listening requires that you draw a conclusion when the other person is finished talking. Ted Lasso prepares us to listen and take a moment giving a thoughtful response, even if the response is a cousin to “thanks, but no thanks.”

Leadership lesson #7: You can’t do every single thing

“As good as you are at your job, I am twice as good at mine.” Character name redacted to prevent Season 2 spoilers

The lesson here is that you’ll need collaborators. You can be a leader and a worker, an artist, and a laborer, but there will always be a need for someone better suited to a task than you might be.

Needing teammates is in no way a weakness – in fact – your capacity to understand and act on this is a huge strength. It often comes with discomfort, but on the other side of that worry is the understanding that help is a good thing, and it’s okay to ask for it.

Leadership lesson #8: Vision

“I believe in hope. I believe in BELIEVE.” —Ted Lasso

Ted Lasso fearlessly leads with openness about optimism and camaraderie. It may not be realistic to expect that of yourself or your team. However, it is realistic, and recommended, to cultivate a willingness to believe in a positive outcome.

Weathering the pandemic limitations created an opportunity for people who weren’t always the most outspoken in the room to confidently talk about their experiences. Seize those ideas and perspectives that offer light and hope.

Leadership lesson #9: Expectations matter

“Don’t you dare settle for fine.”Roy

No spoilers, but this line toward the end of the first episode of Season 2 made us squeal. You can’t ever stop improving, you should never set your bar so low that “fine” is a win.

If we have one life to live, ‘fine’ shouldn’t be acceptable for personal or professional satisfaction.

Gather your gumption and your crew and set your goals higher than fine. Because you can win this whole damn thing if you keep your head and heart in the game.

Leadership lesson #10: Ted Lasso has more in store, but so do you

Jason Sudekis, the star of Ted Lasso, was interviewed by GQ Magazine about the season, his life, and the future as it relates to the past. When asked about the past year he said:

“I think it was really neat,” he said. “I think if you have the opportunity to hit a rock bottom, however you define that, you can become 412 bones or you can land like an Avenger. I personally have chosen to land like an Avenger.”

We’ll have multiple opportunities in life to land as 412 bones or Avengers. As you begin to consider the active role you can play, you may not feel like you have complete control, but you do have some. Allow yourself to be the teammate, leader, and individual who seizes opportunities to steer things forward.

Consider tomorrow episode 1 of the next season of your life

Allow yourself the opportunity to consider where you want to be, who your team is, and the techniques you’re willing to learn and use to achieve your goals.

On the pitch, in the locker room, or while out and about living life, you get to choose how you proceed when things are thrown at you – because even the best laid plans can fall asunder.

Just remember what success really looks like when it comes to leadership (of course, in the words of Ted Lasso): “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”

The future of business is calling.
RISE to the occasion.

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Amanda Magee

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