What You Can Learn from Ted Lasso, Soccer Coach

If you haven’t seen it yet, you need to watch Jason Sudeikis as “Ted Lasso.” It’s a new Apple TV series he created, produced and stars in.

The show is in a class all its own. Ted is an American college football coach who transfers to England to coach a Premier League soccer club. He is clearly in way over his head. He doesn’t even know the rules of soccer when he arrives at the club. But he’s won a Division 2 football championship in the USA and the soccer club owner wants him there.

Despite many attempts to derail his success, he perseveres. He uses his affable, sincere personality and dogged determination to win people over, one by one; up to and including the whole township where the club resides.

In truth, the series becomes a wonderful reminder of what genuine, principle based executive leadership should be about. Ted is simply amazing.

Jason’s character is an interesting mix of classic athletic coach-speak blended with warm and endearing life teaching through the use of witty, sometimes odd metaphors. “Be a goldfish” is one of his early messages to some of the soccer players. That doesn’t sound very dominating. Yet he shares it to mean “have a short memory. If the last play went wrong, forget it and move on to the next play.”

Pillars of Leadership

Here are five pillars of powerful leadership we can all learn from Ted Lasso. Each is a solid example of core values and principles that guide the man as a leader. Where, when or how he learned them is not talked about much, but Ted clearly is rooted in his core beliefs about his purpose. There is an undeniable strength in what he represents.

First, BELIEVE. On day one at the new soccer club, Ted slaps a simple, handwritten poster over his door in the locker room that says ‘BELIEVE’. He enforces that theme throughout his tenure. Believe in yourself, those around you, and the system you are working with.

As various plots unfold within the team, the business office, and the community around him, Ted never stops believing. Even when faced with personal hardship, he never stops believing. He encourages others to simply believe. Again, simple yet powerful reminders about being intentional in the mindset you embrace. BELIEVE.

Next, have a confidant. Ted brings his trusted assistant coach with him. We never get to know this guy’s real name. He’s simply referred to as ‘Coach Beard’, a seeming reference to the beard on his face. Yet Coach Beard provides the support and advice Ted needs along the way.

Leadership can be lonely, but you don’t have to be alone. Having a trusted colleague to run alongside makes a big difference. Whether that person is a deputy, mentor, or advisor, having that trusted soul who sees what you see and helps where you need help can be a game-changer.

Never Ignore the People

Thirdly, honor the ‘little person’. Ted befriends one of the team’s attendants. His name is Nathan. Ted starts calling him “Nate the Great”. Ted realizes Nate actually knows more about the sport than most of the team combined, yet in his shy and demur state, Nate has never blossomed until Ted takes him underwing. At one point, Ted even asks Nate to give the pre-game speech to the team.

The takeaway here is to consider, as a leader, that there may be those in the organization who are far beneath your position, but who possess great insight into the true inner workings of the group. Valuing their wisdom and leveraging it just might open new doors for greater success.

Next, ‘be curious and ask the right questions.’ In a pivotal confrontation in an English pub house, Ted challenges the bad guy to a game of darts. He is basically fighting for the honor of his team, the team’s female owner, and his own respect. The enemy is ‘Rupert’, the now-divorced, womanizing ex-husband of the team owner.

The old owner is a rich, dastardly person who steps on people and enjoys it. He wants nothing better but to see his ex-wife fail as the club owner and make a sham of Ted’s coaching.

I don’t want to spoil it for you, but Ted does win the day with a surprise monologue about being curious and asking the right questions rather than judging people and belittling those who you don’t understand.

Ask Great Questions

Great leaders don’t do all the talking. They ask great questions. As Stephen R. Covey said,

Seek first to understand, before seeking to be understood.

See the clip here. It’s powerful (and pardon a little of the language).

Lastly, but certainly not least, get to know your people. I don’t mean is just a social way. I mean get to know their strengths and what makes them ‘tick.’

You can draw upon the inner strengths of your team when you really study your people. Get to know who they really are, then leverage what comes naturally to them. Don’t force them to be someone they are not.

The Conclusion

Ted Lasso might not be the best coach there ever was, but he sure sets the record straight for the people around him. You can’t help but admire his leadership and choose to follow his quirky ways.

Take a detour from the conventional ways you may be using to study leadership. Enjoy a few episodes of Ted Lasso. You’ll be glad you did.