Ted Lasso Teaches Us About Leading Change

Four Lessons Ted Lasso Teaches Us About Leading Change

In the Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso,” Ted is an American college football (gridiron) coach from Kansas who gets named manager of a British Premier League football (professional soccer) club. He’s clueless about soccer when he takes the job.

It’s far-flung fiction to be sure, but it works because Ted (Jason Sudeikis) is a quirky leader who surprises us with lessons in just about every episode. As he leads changes among the struggling football team, the team (eventually) has some success.

Along the way, beyond everyone else’s salty language, he teaches us a few things about leading change:

  • Humility. Ted is scorned and laughed at by players, fans and the media. It doesn’t kill his spirit. He stays focused on his mission—to help others get better—so he tunes out the noise. This eventually endears him to his players. As leaders during a change, we often have to subordinate ourselves to the change, recognizing with humility and introspection that we don’t know everything. People want to follow humble leaders.
  • Listening. It starts small—with a suggestion box Ted places in the locker room—with players snickering at it, but someone actually makes a suggestion: fix the showers. So Ted fixes the showers. As leaders, we can’t come up with all the answers (we’ll look naïve if we try); instead we need to ask those we’re leading for their ideas. If we listen humbly and intently, they’ll give us better intel than we can imagine. Plus when we as leaders listen, our people will feel heard, and when people feel heard they’ll do remarkable things. 
  • Curiosity. Ted uses a “quote” from Walt Whitman to teach us to be curious, not judgmental. Ted’s sentiment is right. We need to be curious about why people are the way they are and why they react to a change the way they may be reacting. If we assume our inner-narratives are correct, it can get us into trouble during a change…and lots of other times. 
  • Patience. Ted has a goofy way of expressing himself, but he doesn’t try to change others’ attitudes instantly with simple platitudes. Instead, he patiently finds the right times to act in ways that gain him followers. As leaders, we often want things to move at lightning speed—after all, the market doesn’t ever go slower—but we have to recognize that change among people takes time. We can help them along, but we need to do so patiently. 

Ted Lasso is no super-human. We needn’t be either. We just need to have humility, curiosity, patience and open ears—among other qualities.

Let me know what you think. I look forward to being in touch.


Photo credit: Apple TV+

NOTE: Shout out to Rev. Dr. Robyn Michalove. My wife and I have enjoyed her class on the lessons of Ted Lasso and how they tie to Gospel lessons. Thanks for sparking the idea, Robyn.

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