What ‘Ted Lasso’ can teach you about leadership

Ted Lasso-Leadership-AppleTV+
Nick Mohammed, Jason Sudeikis, and Brendan Hunt in 'Ted Lasso.' Galit Feinreich calls the show "a master class in modern leadership, and considerably more cost-effective than an MBA."
Courtesy of Apple TV+

It’s not hard to see that Ted Lasso is a master class in modern leadership—and, for the $4.99 monthly price of an Apple TV+ subscription, considerably more cost effective than an MBA. Season 2 drops tonight at 8pm! I know this because my husband, who’s typically more of an audio book guy, blocked it on our calendar. This buzzy, convention-breaking show broke a record with 20 Emmy nominations. If you haven’t seen it, I presume it’s either because you don’t have Apple TV+ (excuses!) or you dislike joy. 

This immensely entertaining sports comedy, about a college football coach (Jason Sudeikis) recruited to manage an English Premier League soccer team, should be required viewing for all leaders. It’s particularly mandatory for those of us en route to becoming salty, battle-hardened workplace curmudgeons, struggling to understand—much less inspire—millennial charges who reference You Tube celebrities and say “omni-channel” a lot.  

As a marketing professional whose only sport was climbing the corporate ladder, I found multiple story lines that mirrored what I consider to be greatest hits from my leadership playbook. Whether you’re skeptical or would gladly bathe in Lasso’s leftover bath water, here are a few such leadership nuggets:

Fix the water pressure

Ted Lasso focuses incredibly early in his tenure on something tediously below his pay grade: his team’s crappy locker room showers. Pumping up the water pressure turns out to be his olive branch to a wary team (and an LOL moment for us). 

As leaders, there’s tremendous pressure to stick to initiatives that are strategic—or at least sound strategic. So logically, your team’s creature comforts may not make the cut. But if you want people to rally behind you, there are few more impactful gestures than eliminating obstacles and annoyances. 

In my time leading an innovation team at a consumer packaged goods food company, it was as stupidly simple as upgrading the coffee. Not surprisingly, many of the food scientists had gourmet tastes and enjoyed coffee. But the coffee we stocked was some off-brand abomination, adopted as part of a cost-cutting measure years before. The moment an employee pointed it out, I stopped everything “important” to call the supplier and upgraded to name-brand coffee. It probably cost a few hundred dollars, but shortly thereafter, my grateful, motivated and well caffeinated team executed a complex product reformulation that saved $13 million. Accounting isn’t my strong suit, but that seems like it paid off.

Find your Nates

Of all his new employees, Lasso decides to befriend and encourage his equipment manager, Nate (Nick Mohammed). As leaders, we’ve been conditioned to demonstrate how smart and capable we are by espousing solutions, not asking for them. Ted Lasso turns this idea on its head. Not only is he clearly the team’s first manager ever to even ask Nate his name, but he continues to lean on the guy for coaching advice and much more. 

In my same innovation role, one of my “Nates” was an hourly worker, hired to tidy the R&D workspace and ship out product samples among other tasks. Like Nate, she was shocked by my outreach, and looked at me funny when I asked her what she thought I should do in my first 90 days. But after much prodding, she gave me a brilliant idea: move the walk-in refrigerator used to monitor the shelf life of product samples from across the busy parking lot to our building.

This seemingly small endeavor significantly improved productivity, employee safety and the integrity of the shelf-life testing that was of critical strategic importance to the business. Plus, it made my team happy. One of my proudest moments was recognizing her at an all-hands meeting. Remember those? 

Football is life!

In the show, Dani Rojas (Cristo Fernandez) is the striker brought in to provide additional scoring power to the struggling team. His soccer skills are great, to be sure. But most importantly, he reverberates with positive energy, excitement and spontaneous cheers of “Football is life!”

Leaders generally understand the importance of being—or at least convincingly acting—optimistic ourselves, even when the business is flailing. We’re also taught to isolate “toxic” employees before their negativity can infect others. But counteracting negativity with a new hire who exudes joy and gratitude, can be equally contagious. When I hired my Dani Rojas in a recent marketing leadership role, some of the old timers immediately complained to HR about too much loud laughter coming from our department. Success!

There are many more examples I wish I had time to share. But I’m off to devour Season 2 and look forward to gleaning more leadership lessons with the goofiest grin plastered on my face. So, can someone who understood accounting please tell me if I can write off my Apple TV+ subscription as “continuing education”?  

Galit Feinreich is a marketing and innovation consultant at Little Wave Company, and a former chief marketing officer.

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