"I do love a locker room. It smells like potential."
Have you seen the show “Ted Lasso”?
It’s a sports comedy-drama that follows Ted Lasso, an American college football coach, who is hired to coach an English soccer team in an attempt by its owner to spite her ex-husband. As it turns out, he's a better coach than expected.
In between laughs, there are many Ted Lasso leadership lessons all of us can learn from.
Lasso tries to succeed in a highly skeptical environment with his optimistic demeanor and over-the-top humor. At the same time, he struggles with his inexperience in the sport.
Eventually, though, Lasso uses well-honed leadership skills and management principles to get his players firing on all cylinders and achieves success against the odds.
“Ted Lasso’s” first season was nominated for 20 Prime-time Emmy Awards, becoming the most nominated freshman comedy in Emmy Award history.
And despite the goofy, earnest personality of Ted, there are some very good leadership lessons on the show.
For the untrained eye, you may not have noticed them if you’ve seen the show. In that case, let’s take a look at what you can learn about leadership from Ted Lasso.
4 Amazing Ted Lasso Leadership Lessons You Can Apply
We can’t help but notice when we see good examples of leadership. And while you may not be heading to a foreign country to coach a sport you’ve never played, there’s a lot to be learned from Ted Lasso.
Here’s our 4 favorite lessons from Ted Lasso and how you can apply them.
Build rapport with everyone...
One of the best qualities of Ted Lasso as a leader is how much Ted cares about every person he works with. He takes a genuine interest in everyone.
As an example, Ted surprises Nate, the equipment manager, by being the only person at the club to remember his name and showing genuine interest in him.
Later, when everyone at Richmond seems to think the club has been cursed, Ted encourages the players to put an item they value in a box, tell a story about it, and proceeds to burn the box.
By doing this, the entire team gets to know each other better and now the players have something in common - sacrificing something important to overcome adversity (the alleged curse ends up being lifted).
…even if they start out cold
Ted also builds rapport by being undeterred by the club’s owner’s standoffish behavior toward him. He lets her know they need to build a bond to be successful.
As a symbol of his determination and friendliness, he keeps bringing her special, delicious biscuits every morning. He used that as an opportunity to slowly get to know each her and build the foundation of their ultimately very productive and collaborative relationship.
Start on the right foot with your team and build rapport, too
Rapport is the basis for every great relationship on your team. It creates a foundation of trust and psychological safety that is core to a healthy and productive working relationship.
And as Camille Fournier once put it:
“You may find that once you start caring about people, you feel a bit happier yourself at work."
As we’ve written about in the past, building rapport can help you by:
- Making people more engaged and open
- Increasing their loyalty
- Boosting collaboration and team morale
There are plenty of ways you can build rapport with your team just like Ted Lasso.
You may be surprised what people have in common or can relate to. Choose topics that fit your culture, personality, and what you think will resonate.
You can connect with them by asking them questions about:
Their life history
- Where did you grow up?
- What’s your favorite memory from your hometown?
- Ask about their kids
- Ask if they have siblings
- What do you like to do in your free time?
- What would you like to have more time for?
- Do you play any sports? What’s your favorite?
- What sport(s) do you enjoy watching? What’s your favorite team?
- What’s your favorite podcast?
- What’s your favorite board game or video game?
- What do you like to do in your free time other people consider work?
- What would you do if you had to change your profession?
With these questions (and many others we have ready for you in the link below), you can uniquely get to know and engage everyone at your company. That connection, and their feeling of someone at work taking an interest in them builds a foundation for everything else you do with them.
- Learn How to Build Rapport at Work (100+ Awesome Topics)
- Understand Why Experts Agree You Should Build Rapport with Your Team
- Find out why psychological safety is so important for the health and success of your team and other ways to implement it on your team
Give small, thoughtful gifts - they can mean a lot
Even the smallest signs of appreciation can go a long way in showing your team how much you care about them. Ted Lasso is a master of this and uses it as one of his most valuable tools.
There are quite a few examples of him going above and beyond in Season 1 to show how much he cares for the people at the club through thoughtful and unique gifts:
- The aforementioned biscuits he gave the owner each morning.
- The books he gave to all his players, picking out different ones based on their personality, areas they could grow, and writing personalized messages to each of them.
- Giving chin chin, a local dish from West Africa, to one of his players from Nigeria on their birthday because he knew the player was feeling homesick.
Through giving these gifts, he shows respect and understanding of everyone uniquely while making them feel special and appreciated.
Here’s how you can do this for your team, too.
Gifts don't have to break the bank.
Once you build rapport and get to know your team members, thoughtful, inexpensive gifts are a super easy way to show your appreciation and make a team member's day.
For really important wins, you could get them something significant like tickets to a concert or sporting event they'll love. Or even simple things like a team shirt to celebrate a group win can mean a lot.
However, the amount you spend is much less important than the thought behind it; you could give them something just as meaningful for even $10 (or less).
Nate, an engineer I used to work for when I ran product at KISSmetrics, was obsessed with retired Cleveland Cavalier Mark Price. He had been doing great work recently and I wanted to show him some appreciation.
So, I found a figurine of Mark Price on eBay and sent it to him as a surprise. The result (he posted to Instagram) speaks for itself:
It’s so easy to do something similar for your team if you spend a bit of time thinking about it and getting to know them first.
That’s also why we talk about rapport being the foundation of a healthy working relationship; not only does it make it easier to connect with them, but it makes thinking of great, thoughtful gifts much simpler.
- Read more on my story with building rapport with Nate: How to make your team love you for less than $10
- Learn about other inexpensive ways to motivate your team here: https://getlighthouse.com/blog/how-to-motivate-your-team/
- Learn the 4 types of managers that separate memorable leaders from average ones
The No A**hole Rule applies in sports & work - it's one of the most important Ted Lasso Management concepts
When Jamie Tartt, AFC Richmond’s best player, becomes too selfish on the pitch and starts ridiculing his teammates during a game, Ted Lasso makes the bold move of taking him out of the game. Despite getting an earful from Tartt and the crowd booing Lasso’s decision, the team ends up winning the game.
This showed Richmond could win games without Jamie, especially when the team works together without any negative distractions.
When asked about benching Tartt in a press conference, Ted explains his best player will be back in the starting eleven only if he improves his behavior, which Jamie eventually does.
By applying the “No A**hole Rule”, Ted manages to show no individual is bigger than the team, and the team performs better for it.
Here’s why you should follow the same principle.
The cons outweigh the pros of working with a toxic a**hole
A very similar situation in real life happened a few weeks ago when the head coach of soccer club Manchester United benched Cristiano Ronaldo, arguably the greatest footballer of all time, for trying to force a move out of the club.
Manchester United won the game, and the lesson for you is the same as in Ted Lasso. With toxic team members, it's not just about their own performance - they often demotivate and bring your entire team down as well.
A report from Harvard Business School has outlined the real cost of assholes or toxic employees:
"In comparing the two costs, even if a firm could replace an average worker with one who performs in the top 1%; it would still be better off by replacing a toxic worker with an average worker by more than two-to-one."
Toxic team members drive good ones away.
Having a high-performing a**hole on your team can cause turnover, too.
Why? Imagine a good employee trying to do their best while having to put up with the toxic behavior of their colleague. Not only is the toxic employee dragging down everyone’s performance, it can also drive people to quit.
If the same rules don't apply for everyone, and the issues persist, it's natural for your team members to want to leave. A 2021 Cornerstone survey has found that good employees are 54 percent more likely to quit when they have a toxic employee on their team.
In this scenario, the solution is simple - get rid of toxic team members instead of making others adapt to or endure them.
If the toxic team member leaves, the performance and morale of everyone on the team will improve. That overall difference will more than make up for the a**hole's individual results.
Stanford professor Bob Sutton has literally written a book about this (The No Asshole Rule), and we highly recommend reading it for dealing with and understanding similar situations.
For more content on why high-performing a**holes can really derail your team, check out the following links:
- Learn more about dealing with assholes here
- And you can find out How you might be able to turn around the Jerk on Your Team
Get awesome ideas from your team
As a manager, you do not have to have all the answers. In fact, trying to do so is a great way to burn yourself out and get mediocre results.
You can always get great ideas from your team if you’re open to listening to them and regularly seek their opinion.
Ted shows he buys into this idea when he listens to Nate, the equipment manager, who shares a great tactical play he came up with.
Ted encourages Nate to speak up and accepts his idea, using it in a very important match against a much stronger club.
Lasso’s philosophy in this case is simple, but very effective - the best way to improve as a leader and get better results - is to source ideas from your team. They each have a unique perspective based on their roles, so you should take advantage of that as often as possible.
Not only will you be getting more ideas this way, you’ll be showing your team how much you value them.
Are you listening to your team?
There are several ways you can tap into your team’s ideas like Ted Lasso:
1) Ask them.
Don't just take the easy route and ask things like, "Do you have any feedback for me?" That's far too vague and difficult to know what you really want from them without context.
Instead, ask them specific questions like:
- How could we change our team meetings to be more effective?
- Would you like more or less direction from me on your work?
- What could I do to make you enjoy your work more?
By getting specific, you make it easier for them to give you more feedback. Then they know what you're really looking for.
Also, remember to give them credit! The more they feel heard and see you’re listening, the more ideas you’ll get. This creates a win-win scenario for your team and encourages feedback from everyone.
- 6 Great Ways You Can Get More Feedback from Your Team
- Praise: 6 awesome ways to give praise to motivate your team
2) Include them in your ideas.
While it’s great to get new ideas from your team, it’s not the only way they can contribute. Another important approach to use as a leader is to solicit their feedback on your ideas.
Ted Lasso did this by getting all of the players to share their favorite trick plays after he created one of his own. They then had a fun practice trying all of them, and eventually running some of them in a game when they really needed a goal.
Next time you have a great idea, take time to run it by people on your team. Find out what their questions, concerns, and ideas are to improve it.
Not only will this help make your ideas better, it will make your team buy-in more to it as they’ll feel partial ownership of it. That will make them more likely to support it, as well as truly understand it. You’ll also then avoid any mistakes caused by you missing something that matters to them you didn’t account for in your initial idea.
Further reading on getting buy-in:
- How to Get Team Buy in for an Important Change You Want to Make
- How to Get Buy in at Work: Making your projects more successful
3) Make time for skip level meetings:
For senior leaders, you can use this to reconnect with those further away from you in the org chart.
In skip level meetings, you as the senior manager or executive meet with the direct reports of the managers that report to you. This bridges the gap between yourself and your employees deeper in your organization. It also allows you to gather valuable feedback that helps you build a healthier and more productive work environment.
The ideas you hear from these team members will be different than you hear from the managers reporting to you. By making time to meet with people deeper in your organization you’ll gain new perspectives and ideas…all you have to do is make time and ask!
There's a lot more to learn about these meetings, so check out these posts to help you implement and make the most of them:
- Just starting on them? Here's a comprehensive guide to skip level 1 on 1s including how to start them and make the most of them.
- Not sure what to ask in them? Here's 66 Questions to ask in skip level 1 on 1s.
It’s easy to use the leadership lessons from Ted Lasso if you put in a bit of effort
“For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” - Ted Lasso
Hidden behind the goofy demeanor and over-the-top jokes of Ted Lasso, you can find a surprisingly valuable collection of leadership advice.
Even though the show doesn’t take itself too seriously, it surprised me how often Ted’s leadership tactics would work in real-life, workplace situations.
His focus on building strong rapport with everyone, openness to hearing ideas from anywhere, and making tough decisions like removing an a**hole from the field are all characteristics that have been proven to make great leaders.
There are lots of ideas you can apply from the Ted Lasso management playbook, which is why Season 1 of the show is definitely worth a watch if you haven’t seen it already.
And if you need help applying tactics like the ones that are part of Ted’s secret recipe of leadership, sign up for a free, 21-day trial of Lighthouse.
Our software will give you suggested questions to help you build rapport with your team, a section to store key details about their lives, as well as a place to document and act on important conversations you have throughout the year.
Start your 21-day trial of Lighthouse today to start building deeper relationships with your team and become an awesome manager now.