Ted Lasso started out as a character for an NBC Premier League promo with former SNL cast member Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach attempting to coach an English football (soccer) team.
And this turned into a full 10-episode sitcom on Apple TV+. The premise is amusing enough with some predictable jokes about American-British culture clashes and confusion, but the show has a surprising amount of heart. The real clash turns out to be Ted, the wholesome, genuine, energetic Kansan, facing off against a culture of toxic masculinity. In some ways, it’s a classic story of a sports coach inspiring their players not just to win but to become better people.
What works is that Ted’s persistent optimism feels exactly as real as the sitcom format itself, and I was oddly inspired by Ted. Here are a few takeaways I had about leadership from Ted.
Note that I tried to pick examples from mostly just the first two episodes so as not to spoil the show if you haven’t seen it yet. And it’s not a drama anyways, so I don’t think I can spoil that much anyways, but continue reading at your own risk.
When Ted first arrives at the stadium, he meet and asks the equipment manager his name. Nate is incredulous because no one has ever asked him name before, and from thereafter, Ted keeps noticing him. Ted waves to Nate, asks his opinion, and just treats him as more than a gofer.
When I was growing up, my dad always insisted that my sisters and I say, “good morning” (actually we said “zou san, ba ba” in Cantonese) when we first came down from our room. As a kid, I found unnecessarily formal, especially since he never once forgot, but it built a habit.
Now, I greet each coworker with a “good morning” every day. Well, I did when we were going into the office. I can’t not. When I come in late after a morning dentist office and everyone is focused, I still bother everyone and holler a “good morning” to the room.
It seems minor, especially since it’s almost an automated ritual, but I think it matters because for that moment, you are seen and noticed. It’s so easy to let individual people fade to the background whether that be the grocery store cashier or the guy next to you at a crosswalk or the coworker you see everyday, so I feel a little better knowing Ted believes it’s worth it, too.
Fix the Small Things.
In the second episode, Ted tells the team that he won’t change anything before their first game against Crystal Palace, which is already a great move as an incoming manager to observe first. Anyways, he instead presents an anonymous suggestion box to address any issue, big or small. After sifting through a bunch of anonymous insults, he gets a tip that the shower pressure is too low.
Leaders want to inspire and create change. They want to have a big impact. Big companies fire and hire CEOs just to shake things up, and sometimes that’s what an organization needs.
But often, the experience for individuals is often built up by all the little things. Is it a big deal that the office supplies don’t have a favorite style of pens? Not really, but for $2, it might be worth getting past that. And I think it can really mean a lot to people to know that their leaders care about the details.
On the one hand, it’s easy to get mired in tiny things, and it’s certainly possible they can add up. On the other hand, it’s easy to get distracted by tiny things, too. Ted doesn’t let little things detract from his bigger message and coming change.
On his first morning into work, Ted brings biscuits (American shortbread) to the club owner, Rebecca Welton. Despite her initial protests to daily “biscuits with the boss,” she’s quickly addicted to the new box every morning. She even sends her assistant Higgins to find Ted’s source, but he can’t figure it out. We soon that’s because Ted bakes them himself in his kitchen.
In regular life, there are four types of gifts we give to each other. The first is by far the most common and easily provided: the tip. “You have to see this video I found online.” “Did you try doing it this way?” “I know a guy.” As a coach, Ted is always pulling players into his office to give them pointers.
Second takes just a bit more thought and sincerity: the compliment. “You did a great job with that.” “Thank you so much for your help.” “That looks so good on you.” Ted is effusive in all praise, whether on how Nate mixes his sports drink or how gifted Jamie is at soccer.
Third is less frequent but still common and sometimes varies in thoughtfulness: the thing you bought. The Christmas gift. The thing you picked up at the store on the way in. Ted does this when he gets books for everyone: it’s thoughtful.
Finally is by far the least common but in the abstract the most meaningful: the thing you made. A knitted blanket. A wooden doorstep. A box of biscuits. It isn’t something passed along, conjured in a moment, or purchased: it’s something that someone put time into to be given to someone. That’s real.
Ted notices that one of his players, Sam Obisanya from Nigeria, is having a tough time in the league. Suspecting that he’s having a hard time adjusting, he gets everyone to chip in for a birthday present, where he gets him a bag of chin chin to remind him of home. And then they have a birthday party with cake and dancing afterwards.
I personally am late to celebrating and congratulating peers for life milestones. Whether it was an engagement, a baby announcement, or just a birthday, I figured they probably had enough people already congratulating them and enough going on in life to feel fulfilled.
Then I started hitting these milestones in my own life, and it felt really good every time someone thought to reach out. I do like getting a flood of Facebook posts on my birthday. Of course I wanted to talk about wedding planning. If you even mention my baby, I will tell you a story and then send you a photo of her.
Like being noticed, it’s easy to dismiss as meaningless to check Facebook and see it’s someone’s birthday. But on their special day, it certainly feels meaningful. And within a team, it’s not obvious who is supposed to bring it up whenever someone has a life milestone.
Actually, that’s a complete lie. It’s up to leaders to bring the rest of a team around to celebrate an individual.
I hope I wasn’t alone in being inspired by Ted. And these were just from the first two episodes: there are plenty of great moments through the rest of the season as wlel.
After thinking through all of these, I realize that most of these ideas aren’t really specific to being a leader: they mostly come off as just being a good person, and that has two possible interpretations.
First, perhaps being a leader is just about having a higher standard of being a good person. When everyone is looking to you, you set an example for the culture and team around to you.
Second, perhaps being a leader is possible for everyone, regardless of whether you have a fancy title or not. All of us can be a model for better behavior, whether that be to peers, those we lead, or even those we follow.
And these things are really hard to do. In the magic of a TV sitcom format, things work and bear fruit in a half-hour, but life isn’t so quick and tidy. What makes Ted so inspirational, however, isn’t exactly what he does: anyone can have a good day and do the right thing from time to time. Ted is inspirational because his actions show who he is, and inner character persists over a lifetime.