Of all the recent televisual offerings, "Ted Lasso" has firmly lodged itself into my heart and mind, somewhat surprisingly given its premise of an American football coach taking the helm of a British soccer team (spoiler I am NOT a football fan). One might have expected it to be a fluffy, light-hearted comedy, but it ended up serving as a trenchant commentary on leadership and the human condition, wrapped in a story about the camaraderie of team sport.
Each Wednesday, akin to a religious ritual, the new episode rolls out. The finale, however, has left me emotionally dishevelled, my tears curiously mingling with the morning's brew. Why has this series held such power? Is it its storylines about love, kindness, and hope in a world increasingly devoid of these qualities? Or is it, as I suspect, a combination of the two? In the arena of my work as an organisational psychologist, "Ted Lasso" provides a stark contrast between two leadership styles.
Ted, the benevolent coach, embodies the empathetic, kind, and compassionate leader we need more of. Richard, the former manager, represents the self-serving, cutthroat model of leadership, which is luckily becoming a much less familiar sight in many corporate corridors.
Ted's style of leadership is what I yearn to see more of in the business world. He leads with love, understanding and the recognition that his players are human, not mere tools to be used for success. Richard, on the other hand, is emblematic of the kind of leaders that have, for too long, dominated our organisations, just head over to Succession for a deeper dive into power and politics!
The series paints a classic good vs evil narrative, yet with a refreshing twist. It is not merely about the triumph of good over evil, but also about the transformational potential of kindness and understanding. This narrative is what I believe is resonating with so many viewers worldwide, who are perhaps yearning for a shift towards a kinder, more empathetic world, both in our workplaces and beyond.
"Ted Lasso" offers us a glimpse of what such a world might look like: a place where people are empowered, where their humanity is recognised, and where love and care are not merely peripheral but central to how we operate. It is this message of hope, so brilliantly conveyed, that has left me - and, I suspect, many others - in pieces. But most of all, it gives us hope that the tide is indeed turning and that a more human and compassionate workplace, and world, might not be too far off.
The multi-layered gem that is "Ted Lasso" offers a veritable feast of lessons for those in leadership positions.
Empathy and Kindness Matter: The show highlights the importance of empathy in leadership. Ted Lasso, the protagonist, always treats his players as people first, recognizing their needs, hopes, and struggles. In today's world, leaders can no longer afford to overlook the importance of empathetic leadership. They need to understand the unique situations of their team members and react with kindness and compassion. This approach not only builds loyalty but also enhances team performance.
Believe in Your Team: Ted shows unwavering belief in his team, even in the face of adversity. He doesn’t give up on them, and this relentless belief in their potential pays off. For real-world leaders, this is an important lesson in the power of trust and positivity. When leaders believe in their teams and communicate this effectively, they inspire confidence and motivation.
Be Adaptable: One of the things that stands out about Ted is his adaptability. He moves from American football to English soccer, an environment that is completely alien to him, but he adapts quickly. In a rapidly changing world, adaptability is a key leadership skill. Leaders need to be ready to pivot when circumstances require it, and guide their teams through change. We assess this specifically in our Leader of the Future Assessment where we take a deep dive into learning agility.
Communication is Key: Ted is an exceptional communicator. He is straightforward, clear, and open, even when discussing tough issues. This open and honest communication is critical to the building of trust within a team. Leaders can learn from this, and ensure that they are communicating effectively and openly with their team.
Leadership is Not About Dominance: Unlike his predecessor Richard, Ted doesn't approach leadership as a zero-sum game, where he wins at the expense of others. Instead, he understands that everyone can win together. We not I. He leads from a place of humility, always ready to listen, learn, and share credit. This is a powerful lesson for any leader—success doesn't have to come at the expense of others.
Be Genuine: Ted doesn’t pretend to be something he’s not. He’s unapologetically himself, quirks and all. This authenticity resonates with his team and builds trust. In leadership, authenticity is vital. Leaders should be genuine and transparent, not just putting on a 'leadership persona' which never seems to end well.
Indeed, the withdrawal symptoms of a completed season of "Ted Lasso" are not to be taken lightly. One can almost feel a palpable void on Wednesdays, as our weekly rendezvous with Ted and his peculiar brand of leadership comes to an abrupt halt. However, while the season has concluded, the learnings we've gleaned from it endure. It has, in many ways, illuminated our understanding of what leadership can and should be. Each episode was more than just an engaging narrative; it was a compendium of life lessons, an ode to compassion, and a tribute to the transformative power of empathy. It revealed that in the face of challenges and adversity, the most potent weapon in a leader's arsenal is not authority or dominance, but kindness and understanding. It reminded us that people matter and that they should be treated with respect, dignity, and care.
We envision a world where leaders are not merely bosses, but also mentors, guides, and supporters. Where workplaces are not characterized by stress and competition, but by collaboration, mutual respect, and care. Where each person is valued, heard, and given the space to grow and thrive.
To say that "Ted Lasso" has influenced our work would be an understatement. It has reaffirmed our belief in the power of leadership, and we intend to channel this inspiration into our endeavour to make workplaces better, kinder, and more human-centric. While we may no longer have a weekly date with Ted, his ideals and ethos will continue to guide us on our mission.
Until then, as Ted Lasso himself would say, "Be a goldfish" – keep moving forward, learning, and growing.