Leadership in Ted Lasso – “Pilot”

The Apple+ series “Ted Lasso” premiered in 2020 and quickly became a runaway success due to its outlandish but heartwarmingly earnest portrayal of an American football coach tasked with leading an English Premier League football club. Wonderfully portrayed by Jason Sudeikis, the character of Ted Lasso won hearts and minds thanks to his positive energy, forthrightness, and all-but unshakeable affability. 

Beyond its simple entertainment value, “Ted Lasso” the show and Ted Lasso the character both have valuable and insightful lessons to teach us on the art of leadership. 

In the show’s first episode, we see how Ted embodies a leadership concept known as “Servant Leadership.” This distinctive style is characterized by a leader’s devotion to the service of the personnel who report to them rather than focusing on the overall good of the organization.

This shows up through how he measures success, his strategy in individual coaching, and how he seeks to transform his high performers into leaders. 

What is Servant Leadership?

In a March 2020 article, Forbes magazine described Servant Leaders as “focus[ing] on the people directly below them, rather than the company as a whole.” The article underscores the importance of promoting growth among people, including professional improvement, knowledge expansion, physical health, and the ability to work independently. 

How We Define Success

“Win or lose.”

One of the critical ways Ted Lasso represents the idea of Servant Leaders is in how he defines success. Most organizations, especially professional sports organizations, traditionally operate with clearly defined metrics to measure success. In finance, it may be net return. In telecom, it may be network reliability. In media, it may be subscriber growth. In professional sports, success is most often defined by wins and losses. But not in the world within Ted Lasso’s head. Whenever pressed on whether he considers himself able to deliver wins for Richmond, Ted steadfastly hews to the idea that it “ain’t about wins and losses.” For Ted, his top priority is seeing his players and those working with him in the front office reach their full potential as people and professionals. While this belief plays a prominent role in later episodes in the first season, the pilot seeds it with a classic cliche from Ted, who tells the media assembled for his first press conference that the team would “give you everythin’ they got for two halves. Win or lose.”

How We Build Our Team

Another important way Ted Lasso exemplifies Servant Leadership is how he builds the team of professionals around him.

His first move upon reaching the football pitch is to consult the nearest subject matter expert on his personnel, even though that subject matter expert only holds the meager equipment manager position. In meeting Nate, Ted quickly identifies an underdeveloped talent needing molding and improvement. He praises Nate and invites him to participate in a high-level conversation among senior leadership.

“You remembered my name!”

Regarding the actual footballers of Richmond FC, Lasso employs an observe-and-assess strategy, allowing their personal interactions and performance on the practice pitch to inform his approach to each player individually.

How We Transform Performers into Leaders

In addition to building his support team from the bottom up, Ted shows us what servant leadership looks like by attempting to elevate top performers early, attempting (and failing) to form a rapport with team captain Roy Kent (beautifully played by writer-turned-actor Brett Goldstein).

Rather than chide Roy for the team’s recent poor performance, he recognizes his ability, reputation, and legacy and focuses on him as a critical component in building the team into a functional unit.

Though his early attempts fail, Ted’s ability to recognize Roy’s value and importance to long-term team success shows his dedication to improving his people.

Ted’s attempts to transform Roy, his recognition of Nathan’s latent talent, and his focus on development over winning, all showcase how he perfectly represents the ideal image of a Servant Leader.

As we go forward, we’ll explore how the Servant Leader approach in “Ted Lasso” succeeds or fails, and look at how Ted’s success or failure at hewing to its principles affects his ultimate outcomes.

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