Ted Lasso: Leadership Lessons Take 2

Seldom can we say that watching a television show will help you gain insights into what it means to lead better, but in the case of Ted Lasso, Season 2, it is true. In 2022,  I wrote a post about the management lessons gained from Season 1, and now I find that the sequel season is even richer. The characters have matured, their frailties more pronounced, and their strengths deepened. 

Chief among them, of course, is the lead character, Ted Lasso (played by Jason Sudeikis, who co-created the Apple+ series). In his second season as manager of AFC Richmond, an English football team, we find that his often cheery attitude and never say quit demeanor stems partly from a loss suffered as a teenager. This fact gives his character a richer dimension that makes exploration of his journey and that of his colleagues all the more compelling.

Community at work

Standing back a bit, the series depicts community – among the team, the organization, and the fans themselves. What unites each is a commitment to one another and a greater goal of doing their best. They embody Ted’s mantra, “Believe,” symbolized by the hand-painted sign posted in the locker room.

Here are a few key aspects worthy of consideration.

Trust. Fundamental to leadership is belief. For a leader, trust is earned by showing respect for others, understanding their needs, and doing what is necessary to bring people together. Trust takes much work and patience, as Ted quietly and repeatedly shows in his interactions with others. Hard work, yes, but so necessary.

Difference. The key characters in the show all have their own agendas, which is good for comedy and drama because it gives us a compelling reason to pay attention. Their differences, however, underscore their sense of community. They disagree, argue, and even fight, but they are bound to one another by – and yes, there’s that word – belief in the greater good – the team.

Mentorship. There is a lovely scene where Keeley speaks to Higgins, the team president, about her future. Higgins replies with a beautiful quote about mentorship. “A good mentor hopes you move on. A great mentor knows you will.”In other words, mentorship is about enabling the mentee to achieve their goals, not the mentors.

Grace. The series is a celebration of kindness. Ted is the embodiment of a kind person who lives his creed. Never is this true when Ted discovers that he has been betrayed. He embodies what it means to lead with grace under pressure. He keeps his cool, harbors no ill will, and moves forward. Notably, after working with team therapist, Dr. Sharon Fieldstone, how show himself some grace, and in doing so provides a valuable lesson in self-care.

Stronger for being together

All of these factors – trust, difference, mentorship, and grace – come together to strengthen the AFC Richmond community. Players, coaches, staff, owners, and fans believe in the team. They embody the words of singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, “I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” The team is their community, a community that accepts them for who they are quirks and all

The lessons of Ted Lasso embody a dictum of the legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder. “Never bore people. And if you have something important to say, wrap it in chocolate.” And that’s precisely what the Ted Lasso series does. It is out loud, funny, as well as piercingly poignant. Characters win and lose, and most come out the better for their struggles, like life.

First posted on Forbes.com 02.00.2023

Mercy Most Merciful

“Mercy and cruelty intertwine in war. Acts of compassion may coexist with pitiless depravity within just a few yards.” 

The notion of mercy or humanity in war seems like an oxymoron. Still, as Cathal J. Nolan reveals in the above quote taken from his new book, Mercy: Humanity in War, there is quite a bit of kindness and compassion in wartime. Not enough to offset massive property losses and lives lost but enough to remind us that we are still human.

Approaching history differently

Nolan is a historian by trade, but as he told me in an interview, he approaches his subjects, often war, from the viewpoint of humanity and culture. Nolan, who teaches at Boston University, told me, “I wrote this book the way I teach. My courses are not traditional history courses or traditional military history courses. I think of them as courses in the human condition.” And for that reason, what he writes and teaches has relevance to organizational culture. Nolan explores the moral code that binds us together. 

What makes mercy compelling are the stories. Some of the stories, like that of Hugh Thompson, the helicopter pilot who inserted his aircraft between the soldiers and the villagers of My Lai to stop the brutality, are well-known. Others, like the one of Lieutenant Fredrich Lengfeld, who sacrificed his life to save a dying American soldier in the Hurtgen Forest in December 1944, are not. 

Each of these tales took on added life long after the incidents. Thompson returned to My Lai decades later and met survivors of the massacre. In 1994 American veterans traveled to a German military cemetery to unveil a monument to the memory of Lengfeld. 

Moral code expressed

These stories give life to the moral code exerted in wartime, typically by combatants on both sides of the conflict. For example, during the awful trench warfare of World War I, there would be temporary truces. They were “frequently initiated, but not always by medical officers on one side and agreed to by medical officers on the other,” says Nolan. “And that’s to go out and collect each other’s wounded. So you have this bizarre moral circumstance where we’re trying to maim and kill you. And then we will pause this kind of mutual return to decency for a set period of time. We go out and recover the wounded, and often we’ll carry your wounded to you, and you’ll help carry our wounded back and forth. And then we resume try[ing] to kill and main you.” Absurdist, yes, but it happened. 

Technology has made killing in war easier. As Nolan explained, warfare was up close and personal for most of human history. When soldiers engaged in combat, they would be splattered in the blood and flesh of their victims. (Think of the TV series Vikings.) Now warfare can be conducted from great distances. Yet, Nolan says, the morality of war has yet to evolve. We are still human, after all.

The concept of mercy exists deep within the human psyche. And in times of adversity, when inhumanity prevails, it reminds us that we are human. Therefore, we can act for the better good, even in the face of evil.

First posted on Forbes.com 00.00.2023

Note: Click here to see my full LinkedIn Live interview with Cathal J. Nolan.