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Ted Lasso lessons for leadership

The things I know firsthand as a professional coach and as a coach of my daughter’s teenage volleyball team, is that there are many parallels. In fact, I learn more from coaching the girls!

I’m a bit late on the Ted Lasso train but have fallen in love with the show and characters in it. I also lived in London for a couple of semesters in college and laugh hysterically at the American in England things they exaggerate. Here are a few of the lessons that translate for me from Ted Lasso for all of us as leaders.

1. What you do is not who you are.

We know that one of the measures of success is achievement, but the other correlated factors of purpose and meaning are also measures of success. Ted Lasso is a winning American football coach asked to go coach soccer in England. How is it that he could feel confident to do that job, when he knew nothing about the sport? He was a coach. Not as a job, but as a deep part of his soul. Being a coach was part of his meaning as a human being. Being a coach was part of his purpose in life.

There is an exercise I do with my clients called “who am I”. There are three layers to who we are – our physical bodies, our minds, and our souls. In each of these layers we have an identity, and they must all be aligned but driven by our sole purpose. What we do is not in our soul layer, but in our physical one. We must know who we are. Ted is who he is, with his son, with his team, in the pub and to the owner of the team. Ted is Ted, not what he does for a living.

2. Believe.

Ted has a sign with “believe” on the door to the office, door to leave the locker room, and on his bathroom mirror at home. My favorite speech is in the last episode of the first season where he talks about the benefits of having hope. We must believe in ourselves and believe in other people. Both sides of belief must exist in leadership. Belief only in ourselves could makes us achievement focused and self-reliant. Believing in others makes us insecure and unable to be resolute in our goals. Believing both in ourselves, others and something larger than ourselves build a reservoir of hope that sustains.

3. Speak your mind with class.

My favorite part of living in England and all English tv and movies is how marvelous the Brits can speak truth and sound elegant and not snipy. It is the accent and the sentence structure that the phrase “sod off” can somehow be classy, but it is to me. Two of my favorite characters on the show are Nate on the coaching staff and Keeley, in marketing. Speaking truth as a leader can be tough because we hate hurting others, or we hate the unknown of other’s emotional reactions. The truth is refreshing. It does not have to be delivered with a hammer or with malice. Real truth is always delivered in love. Being a professional leader means you owe yourself and your organization lessons in speaking truth.

4. Have the memory of a goldfish.

Ted refers to the memory of the goldfish many times throughout the episodes. To build resilience, we must forget. Forget the past, forget the hardship, forget the mistakes, forget history. To move on, we have to forget. Believe me, there are times that the negative mistakes of the past can be incredibly motivating to not fail that way again. But true motivation that is long lasting must be both positive and negative in derivation. We can run for exercise or run from a bear. Running from our past or our failures is running from a bear. Fear can get us moving, but we can run wildly with no direction. We must run from something and run toward something. Forgetting the mistakes allows us to set our minds forward and run toward a positive goal. That is a lighthouse that has direction.

5. Don’t settle for fine.

My favorite player, Roy Kent gives Rebecca advice after meeting the new guy she was dating. He says, “Sure the guy is fine, but why is he worthy of dating you? Why would you settle for fine? You want someone who makes you feel like lightening.” As leaders, we get working day to day and forget to step back and realize we’ve been on a path to fine. We’ve compromised and accepted status quo. We’ve accepted a slower pace, lower expectations, and smaller scale. We lived through a pandemic and are so happy to have survived that we’ve settled. As leaders, it is our job to ask the questions all through the organization that keep us from the status quo. Take a step back, get some perspective, hire a consultant, and see where you’ve settled for fine. Where have you down shifted that you need to gear up again. Where have you lost the fire and need to find the spark of creativity again. Don’t settle for fine.

6. Humor works.

Somehow humor or belly laugher makes it onto all my lists. Humor is a need we all must have to survive. Ted’s ability to make light of a circumstance is endearing, but it also makes him an excellent leader. He can de-escalate situations, peel back emotional drama and connect with people

Overall, Ted looks at things from a different perspective. He is a raving optimist, who I adore. But he’s not a dreamer or lives with his head in the clouds. He is a realist who believes better things are to come. It is in other circumstances in our lives where we can derive powerful lessons, even on our favorite streaming binge fest.

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