Learning leadership communication from Ted Lasso
Over the holidays, I watched a new TV series.
It was one of those ones that a friend recommends with the pre-warning that it’s just an ‘easy watch’, ‘nothing too serious’, ‘it won’t keep you on the edge of your seat’.
‘It’s nice, but you won’t be hanging from one episode to the next’.
Except I was. I loved it, and I’m not ashamed to say, I binged the whole thing in just one weekend.
I became attached to the characters and invested in their lives, but more so, I learned some really great lessons, I can implement in my own life and work, to be a better leader and team player.
Now before this gets confusing, this article is not a review of a great TV show. As much as I love my telly, I’m not in the business of writing reviews.
What I am in the business of, is sharing those lessons I’ve learned, so you don’t have to learn them for yourselves. I figure if we all share what we learn, we can all know a lot more, in much less time!
So, this telly show was Ted Lasso, it starred Jason Sudeikis who you might know from Horrible Bosses (and who is usually not my favourite!).
It was a simple story about a scorned British wife, who brings an ex-NFL coach across the ocean to lead her husband’s football (soccer) team.
This coach has no experience and no knowledge – at all – of the game.
Of course, the wife's plot was designed to see the team lose, and the husband distraught at his beloved teams’ embarrassing demise.
What the woman, the team, the fans didn’t expect, was just what this coach would bring to this dying club.
Investment in the growth of others
Like a good manager, a coach’s job, is not to look out for himself, but to look out for his team.
It’s to find a way to help each and every member of that team grow, become better and ultimately succeed.
When the coach arrived, Nathan (played by the delightful Nick Mohammed) was little more than the team ‘orange boy’. He was mistreated by the players and looked down upon by basically everyone associated with the club.
No one would give him a go.
Cue Coach Ted Lasso.
Ted started by doing what no one else was doing at that time, he treated Nathan like a human; he gave Nathan respect.
He acknowledged Nathan's presence, listened to his ideas, and by the end of the season, had not only trusted him to deliver the pre-game speech (hilarity ensued), but promoted him to an assistant coach position.
As leaders, we need to invest in the growth of the people we manage, by encouraging them, trusting them and believing in them.
Needless to say, the female lead in the story – the new football team owner – was presented initially as hardened and unapproachable.
Rather than taking this on face-value, Ted worked tirelessly every day to connect with his boss (as he did with his team and direct reports) and break down that barrier between them.
He knew that this was a good thing to do as a human, but also as a means to create a more collaborative workplace with better communication up and down.
In Ted’s case, he went to extraordinary effort, personally, secretly baking his boss’s favourite cakes each morning and presenting them in a professional bakery box.
The lesson here is simple – sometimes it’s worth going to the extra effort for the people you work with, because strong communication and connection makes for a more productive and enjoyable workplace.
Community and genuine morale
Football clubs, like many workplaces, bring people together from a variety of different backgrounds with a variety of different stories.
In the television program, Ted identifies a player who is underperforming, and with a little digging, finds the player is severely homesick.
Lasso gets the team together to put on a surprise birthday celebration for the player, with reminders of home, to show him that the team both understands, and is there to be his family when he needs it.
The player’s morale increased almost immediately, as did his performance.
Creating community can also build morale.
Humility and accountability
One of the most important lessons you can learn as a manager, and as a person, is to humble and to be accountable for your own actions.
Exhibiting behaviour like this is leading from the front, and by doing it, leaders show other people how to do it.
At one point in the series, Lasso goes through a particularly difficult time, coming to terms with signing his divorce papers and finalising the end of his marriage.
After drinking a little too much, he verbally attacks Nathan, who is he worked hard to build up, minimising him and making him feel less-than human.
Rather than letting this slide, and taking the stance that he is the boss, Ted makes a point of later finding Nathan and genuinely apologising to him for treating him so poorly.
As a manager, it can sometimes be difficult to admit error and apologise. Interestingly though, rather than making your team doubt you, humility and accountability can improve their respect for you.
At Write Way Up, we have been providing internal and external communications advice to business leaders from boutique to ASX-listed companies, for years. Need some help? Get in touch for a chat.