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What Coach Ted Lasso can teach us about leadership

Article published in the Philadelphia Business Journal on January 9, 2023.

I recently watched “Ted Lasso,” an acclaimed multiple Emmy award-winning TV series about a fictional U.S. football team head coach who was hired as a manager of a mediocre professional soccer (English football) club in London—AFC Richmond. The series consists of many themes, but I will focus on what it teaches about leadership which is applicable to all leaders.

Lasso, who led his NCAA Division II football team to a national championship, has no experience coaching English football. He doesn’t know that the playing field is called a pitch, or how to explain the offsides rule. However, Lasso is an effective leader with an innate understanding of what is needed to get the best out of his players and to build a cohesive team. He has a disarming persona, but he is not to be underestimated.

Lasso doesn’t know he was hired by the new owner of AFC Richmond to fail in retribution against her former husband, who loved the team. Lasso didn’t fail. Quite the opposite.

Due to his inexperience, Lasso starts with zero credibility with the players, the press and the team’s fans. At his first press conference, Lasso is asked, “You’re an American, whose athletic success has come at the amateur level, a second tier one at that, and has now been charged with the leadership of a premier league football club with very little knowledge of the game. Is this a (expletive deleted) joke?”

Many of Lasso’s leadership principles are presented in a YouTube video by Charisma on Command. His leadership philosophy as presented in the video is, “Be someone that people want to follow,” and lead in a way that “makes everyone on the team feel like they matter.” Five of his leadership principles are:

1. Align the goals of individual players with those of the team

Lasso has an issue with his leading scorer who is not a team player. Lasso benches him at the end of the first half in a match in which he already scored two goals, to the huge displeasure of the fans in the stands. The team goes on to win the match.

Knowing that they could win without him, the team starts shunning the star player, depriving him of the recognition he craves. This was enough for him to align his personal goals with the team’s goals, eventually becoming fully accepted by his teammates.

Photo credit: MCDONALD’S IMAGE

2. Boost the self-confidence of others

When Lasso arrives at AFC Richmond, he asks the kick (equipment) manager for his name. The manager responds, “Nathan. No one has ever asked me my name.” In that one instant, Lasso makes him feel that he is somebody. 

Nathan sketches out a new offensive play and Lasso says, “lets’ give it a shot.” Lasso involves Nathan in strategy development, eventually promoting him to assistant coach. Lasso treats him in a way that shows he matters. 

Nathan gives Lasso a list of points for improvement he feels should be shared with each player. After reading them, Lasso says to Nathan, “I am not going to do it, you are.” This was a meaningful sign of trust in Nathan and a confidence booster. 

3. Show you care

Lasso is truly interested in his players and exhibits the human side of leadership. When he learns that one of his player’s birthday is approaching, he arranges for a locker room birthday party. Players are more apt to follow leaders who care about them.

4. Don’t deny the brutal facts of reality

Before actual change can occur, the team must face reality—they need to play better. In a locker room scene at the end of a first half, Lasso addresses his team, stating, “Fellas, we’re broken. We need to change.” By facing the brutal facts of reality, it allows the team to start the change process.

5. An effective leader helps others believe in themselves

Lasso is one of the most positive individuals you will ever meet. He constantly provides supportive feedback to his players, even while pointing out areas in which they need to improve. He helps his players believe in themselves.

As I often write, people will follow those who see opportunities and abundance rather than those who see nothing but scarcity and limitations. Lasso is certainly the former type of person. His positive attitude is infectious. People want to follow him.

Under Coach Lasso, the change in the team’s dynamics is transformational. They start to win more matches. The players bond together and want to spend time with each other outside of training and match days.

The leadership philosophy and principles practiced by Lasso are universal. They transcend professions. Follow them and you will be successful leading your organization. 

 

Stan Silverman is founder and CEO of Silverman Leadership and author of “Be Different! The Key to Business and Career Success.” He is also a speaker, advisor and widely read nationally syndicated columnist on leadership. He can be reached at Stan@SilvermanLeadership.com.

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