There’s a reason Ted Lasso has quickly become everyone’s favorite, most-quoted, mustached leader. Want to build trust like Ted? Here's how.
It only takes a few minutes of watching Ted Lasso to see why he has quickly become one of the world’s favorite, most-quoted leaders, never mind that he’s a fictional character.
If you’ve missed the buzz, here’s a little background on the show Ted Lasso to get you caught up. Ted is from Kansas City where he coached football (the American kind). The show starts with him leaving Kansas City behind and moving halfway across the world to the UK where he has accepted a position to coach another football team (the British kind), AFC Richmond.
In many ways, Ted is a mustached version of the boss we all wish we had. Sure, he might be a ten-thousand-ton dose of positivity and optimism that cynics might dismiss as simplistic and naïve, but as the popularity of the show (and Ted himself) demonstrates, those traits are some of what makes him such a powerful leader.
Another piece to that equation is his light-hearted quips and demeanor that make him enjoyable to be with. People are drawn to Ted because they’re happy when they’re around him. Ted also genuinely cares about his people with a depth that surpasses simply learning their names and exchanging pleasantries about last weekend. He cares about people enough to believe in them, which takes his leadership from good to transformative.
When a leader believes we’re capable of becoming a better version of ourselves, it gives us reason to trust them. When they back those beliefs up with action, it solidifies that trust. Want to build trust with your team the way Ted Lasso did with his?
Here’s how to do just that:
When Possible, Replace Emails with Cookies, I Mean, Biscuits
On Ted’s first day of coaching in the UK, he starts a tradition of having “biscuits with the boss,” where he drops a small box of biscuits off to Rebecca, the owner of the team, before leaving for practice.
At first, Rebecca not only resists the gesture but is annoyed with Ted’s daily appearance in her office, tolerating his visits only because the biscuits are so darn good. With time, though, she comes to expect and even enjoy Ted’s morning ritual of showing up in her office.
This is an example of an effective leadership strategy for two reasons:
First, it takes into account that people are more than just a name and job title. Every employee is a person with their own set of strengths, weaknesses, hopes, fears, goals, and setbacks. If leaders are intent on building trust with their people, it’s not enough to know them only by their role and responsibilities. In Ted’s own words, “We can’t be good partners unless we know each other.”
If leaders expect an employee to be fully engaged, they should engage with the full employee.
Second, it proves the power of simple rituals. Rituals are everyday actions that are attached to meaning. By showing up each day with biscuits in tow, Ted isn’t just dropping by Rebecca’s office. He is using this ritual to show her that she matters and proving it through consistency. When it comes to building trust, rule number one is that consistency is the easiest way for people to learn they can rely on you.
Don’t Just Celebrate Wins, Celebrate People Too
One of the most memorable scenes in the show takes place immediately after a major loss by the team in which Ted insists on having an after-game party to celebrate the birthday of one of the players. In later episodes, Ted acts similarly when he applauds a team member for protesting an unethical sponsor (despite it coming on the heels of another disappointing loss) and has the team learn the choreography to NSync’s “Bye Bye Bye” for a farewell party.
Through gestures like this, Ted makes it clear that people matter more than results. As a manager, it isn’t uncommon to slip into a “metrics mindset” where the majority of your focus is on results. What Coach Lasso teaches us is that powerful leaders are able to catch themselves in such a mindset quickly and shift their focus back onto the people they lead.
Ted exemplifies the idea that people aren’t just a means to an end. In fact, they’re not a means at all; they are the end. For him, it’s the people that matter most, not the wins or losses. That’s not to say that he doesn’t care about results. He still has high expectations for his team and wants them to win, just like you have to continue to care about reaching your business goals. The difference is in the details. Ted doesn’t just want to win because it’s what’s best for the club, he wants them to win because it’s what’s best for them, as people.
It’s like Ted says, “Our goal is to go out like Willie Nelson – on a high!”
Allow People to Be More Than Their Worst Moments
In multiple instances throughout the show, Ted encourages people to “be a goldfish.” Why? Because, fun fact, a goldfish’s memory only lasts ten seconds.
Putting this advice into practice is one of the greatest ways Ted builds trust with those around him. He doesn’t let his players or the staff around him focus on their past mistakes. Instead, he invites them to move past those mistakes and be better the next time around.
On several occasions, people show or confess the worst part of themselves to Ted. For example, toward the end of the first season, Rebecca (Ted’s boss) admits that she had been trying to sabotage Ted from the day she hired him. Ted responds by saying, “Divorce makes people do crazy things,” putting her actions within the larger context of the grief and hardship she is experiencing and inviting her to be move on and improve.
One of the biggest reasons for a lack of trust in a relationship is because people fear they won’t be accepted if the other person knew about their mistakes or flaws. As a leader, when you see or hear about one of your people making a mistake, or if they trust you enough to confess to making a mistake, don’t hold it against them. Instead, invite them to “be a goldfish.”
Be More Open Than a Jar of Peanut Butter on the Counter
Note the keyword here is open, not honest. Of course, Ted values honesty too (“Oklahoma!”). Nevertheless, it doesn’t take much to tip the scale from honesty to brutal honesty that proves more harmful than helpful.
The difference between openness and honesty is particularly striking in a scene between Nate, one of the assistant coaches, and football player Colin. In a moment of unfiltered honesty, Nate tells Colin that he is like a painting at the Holiday Inn that doesn’t inspire but is only there to cover a blood stain. Ouch!
By contrast, Ted is open. He tells his players about his struggle with panic attacks, the first time he noticed tan lines, that time he wore pajamas to prom, his love of rom-communism, and, well, a lot of other things. His authenticity (and, yes, his tendency to be a little chatty) puts people at ease because in a short amount of time they get the sense that they know Ted the way they would an old friend.
He is also open with his expectations and feedback. That doesn’t just mean criticizing a player and putting them in their place, though he does that too. Ted is one of the rare leaders to openly – effusively, even – give praise and encouragement to his team (achieving the ideal praise-to-criticism ratio, as Margaret Standing so keenly observed). By doing this, Ted helps his players know where they stand and the ways they play a vital role in the success of the team.
Ted Lasso’s effectiveness as a leader can be summarized in a word: kindness.
Current leadership practices and ideologies hail from a vast legacy that too often portrayed kindness as a luxury most leaders couldn’t afford lest it made them appear weak.
Ted shows that that’s hardly the case.
On multiple occasions, Ted shows up optimistic, happy, and just plain kind, only to be rebuffed by people’s negative attitudes, acerbic criticisms, and oppositional tactics. However, he remains unaffected and undeterred, revealing a simple truth about kindness that is frequently overlooked: kindness requires mastery over your emotions.
Kind people are those who are not easily goaded into anger, annoyance, impatience, etc. They are, instead, impervious to these influences, choosing to be kind. Ted, along with all the other kind people in the world, makes it clear that kindness hardly reveals weakness – it’s a display of incredible strength and self-control that fosters others’ trust in him.
What’s more, research shows that kindness can be contagious. Based on his studies, Stanford psychologist Jamil Zaki concludes, “kindness is contagious, and…can cascade across people, taking on new forms along the way.”
This phenomenon plays out among the Richmond football team members. Ted’s kindness and genuine curiosity and concern for each person spreads across the team until they proactively support and encourage each other.
The major takeaway here is that Ted’s kindness doesn’t simply build people’s trust in him, it builds people’s trust in each other.
Finally, Ted’s last secret to building trust is best said by the man himself,
“I think that if you care about someone and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
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