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5 times Ted Lasso reminded us what great leadership looks like

Apple TV’s Ted Lasso is like a cheat sheet for being a good leader.

5 times Ted Lasso reminded us what great leadership looks like
[Photo: courtesy of Apple]

If you’re planning on watching the show, proceed with caution—there are spoilers ahead. 

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One of the occupational hazards of writing about leadership for more than a decade is that you start to see lessons all around you and ascribe meaning to the actions of others. Sometimes those “others” include the main characters of eponymous television shows. Apple TV’s Ted Lasso is like a cheat sheet for being a good leader.

Good buzz about the show, starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach in London, resulted in the streaming service’s biggest premiere viewership to date, and a six-fold audience increase, according to a report in Variety. While the streaming service isn’t releasing hard audience data, it’s clear that the series is gaining traction. The show also racked up 20 Emmy nominations, including four in the Best Supporting Actor category.

Ask fans why they (we) love the show, and you’ll hear a familiar refrain: It’s a bright spot in a painful world. The writing is sharp and manages to be optimistic, wise, and hilarious without being cloying. Each of the characters has flaws and weaknesses that keep them from becoming caricatures. In a recent episode that paid homage to romantic comedies (funnier and cleverer than it sounds), the Lasso declared, “I believe in ‘rom-communism'”—the philosophy that everything will work out in the end, even if it’s not the way you think it would. These days, that can be hard to believe. Therein lies some of the show’s appeal.

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And if you’re looking for examples of how leaders behave—or should—Ted Lasso is fertile ground. Here are five times Lasso and his cohorts reminded us of the way leaders should act:

Be curious, not judgmental

In a high-stakes game of darts, Lasso faces off against his boss’s ex-husband, billionaire Rupert Mannion (Anthony Head). Mannion lost ownership of his beloved soccer club, Richmond AFC, in a divorce settlement with his ex-wife, Rebecca Welton (Hannah Waddington). The billionaire challenges Lasso to a game of darts, and the two decide to make a wager. If Mannion wins, he can pick the player lineups for the last two games of the season. If Lasso wins, Mannion is banned from the owner’s box, giving Welton relief from his harassment.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
During the game, Lasso uses the famous Walt Whitman quote, “Be curious, not judgmental,” to explain why curiosity is more effective than closed-minded judgment and hubris. Had Mannion simply asked a few questions, such as, “Have you played a lot of darts?” he would have learned that Lasso was an ace. The coach then punctuates his point with a game-winning bullseye.

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Bench the bad actors

Jamie Tartt (Phil Dunster) is Richmond AFC’s star striker, who’s on loan to Richmond AFC from another club. On the field, Tartt is a ball hog, refusing to pass to other players, even when they have a better shot. Off the field, he appears to be a relentless narcissist, bullying and taunting other players and Nathan Shelley (Nick Mohammed), the kit-man-turned-coach. Because of his drag on the team’s morale and continued bad behavior, Lasso decides to bench Tartt during the first half of an important game, risking a loss. With their coach’s encouragement, the team adapts and pulls out a win.

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
When team members become abusive and detrimental, even if they’re rock-star performers, it’s time for a change. Of course, such moves may not be without consequences. In the series, Tartt is called back to play for his original team. But the team learns that no one is irreplaceable.

Admit when you’re wrong—and apologize

The entire premise of the show is based on deception. Welton hired Lasso, who had no experience coaching professionally or understanding of the game of soccer, to fail. She wanted the club to implode to hurt her ex-husband. But Lasso’s wisdom, optimism, and commitment change virtually everyone he meets, softening hearts and winning over many of his critics. Over the course of the season, Welton realizes how she, too, has been changed by being in Lasso’s universe. Under pressure from her new friend, Keeley Jones (Juno Temple), she confesses to Lasso that she set him up to fail and apologizes. Lasso forgives her, forging a deeper friendship and commitment to make the team better.

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Believe

A single word emblazoned on a yellow sign hung with duct tape over the coaches’ office—Believe—reminds everyone in the locker room of the power of belief: belief in oneself; belief in the team; belief in ideals and goals (in each definition of the word).

[Photo: courtesy of Apple]
Lasso hangs the well-worn yellow sign in the locker room in the pilot episode. Jones points out that it’s crooked and directs him as he tries to fix it. They agree that it’s “perfect,” but when the camera pans back, we see that it’s just as askew as it was at the start. The belief doesn’t have to be perfect—it just matters that it’s there.

Kindness matters

If there’s one constant theme throughout the show it’s that kindness is a powerful force. Good things happen when the characters are decent, respectful, and do the right things. Gruff, tough soccer legend Roy Kent (Brett Goldstein) has a nurturing and caring side that endears him to Jones, niece Phoebe, and a circle of wine-drinking yoga moms with whom he occasionally watches reality television. Devoted family man and team communications manager Lesley Higgins (Jeremy Swift) has a moment of redemption when he stands up for himself and ends up in a better place. And the mysterious Coach Beard (Brendan Hunt), Lasso’s assistant coach, shows us the value of wise and steadfast friends.

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Of course, there are other messages if you look hard enough. Promoting Shelley to a coaching-staff position because of his passion and knowledge is a great example of developing and rewarding talent. Dr. Sharon Fieldstone’s (Sarah Niles) borderline miraculous healing abilities are a nod to the importance of self-care, especially with regard to mental health. And Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez) reminds us that the world is filled with “mucho, mucho” joy if you look for it.

The lessons in Ted Lasso don’t come with footnotes to scientific studies or expert opinions to back them up. But look for them in weekly half-hour doses—or a lengthy binge, if you’re so inclined—and it’s hard not to believe in the power of doing the right thing.

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About the author

Gwen Moran is a writer, editor, and creator of Bloom Anywhere, a website for people who want to move up or move on. She writes about business, leadership, money, and assorted other topics for leading publications and websites

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