Editor’s note: This article contains Ted Lasso Season 1 spoilers. We highly recommend watching the show before reading!
“I think if you care about someone and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothin’ you can’t get through together.”
Ted Lasso instilled love in millions of hearts over the past year when the show launched on AppleTV in August 2020. In what was one of the hardest years most of us have ever experienced thanks to a global pandemic, Coach Lasso’s brilliant optimism and constant humor became a cultural phenomenon.
I wasn’t first on the Ted Lasso train, but finally had a chance to watch the show before season 2 dropped. And I quickly realized why this was more than an instant cult classic — it had invaluable lessons for real life that quite literally inspired and changed the way I approached work.
Coach Lasso may know little about soccer, but he has a lot of unconventional wisdom to offer for navigating life, especially at work. Here are five lessons from the first season that any young professional could benefit from in your career.
Find the right balance between winning and character
Critics of the “always positive” method might think that it’s a nice approach for a guy like Ted Lasso, but it’s not realistic in real life. And, in a way, Ted had to learn that lesson, too.
Ted’s leadership style demonstrates the benefits of prioritizing building character over results. He literally tells reporter Trent Crimm that he does not care about winning: “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.” This is quite the opposite of Michael Jordan’s winning (at a cost) mentality that we’ve grown up celebrating.
The right thing and the winning thing are not always mutually exclusive. When Ted makes the decision to bench Jamie — a tactical error in the eyes of most people — it actually led to a winning result for the team.
But when faced with a decision about what would make Roy feel good as a person or what would be best for the team’s success, Ted’s leadership style got a reality check from Coach Beard, who reminded him that results do matter, especially at the professional level. Jobs depend on results because outcomes are a real-world measure of success.
Both character and winning give you opportunities to make an impact. Ted Lasso shows us that results are not the only way to make a difference. But at the same time, character only goes so far when you have a job to do; without results we lose opportunities to make a difference.
Don’t let negative colleagues get you down
One of the biggest challenges Coach Lasso faced in season one was dealing with an organization that was literally cheering for him to fail. Behind the scenes, Rebecca was working against the team’s success, and she tried to minimize her time spent with Ted to avoid building a relationship with him. In the locker room, players like Jamie and Roy didn’t hold back in their criticism of him. Out in the community, fans made it clear what they thought of Ted’s abilities as a coach.
Most of us aren’t in that extreme of a situation, but have likely had to deal with an unsupportive — or even hostile — colleague. How would you respond to feeling like someone is working against you?
It might be tempting to fight back, but Ted Lasso sets a better example: he always assumes good in others’ intentions, and moves forward by trying to make the best out of the circumstances he’s dealing with. When he does challenge people (like challenging Rupert to a game of darts), he does so in a non-threatening way that intends to diffuse a situation, rather than add fuel to the fire.
Ted’s ability to “turn the other cheek” stops negativity from spreading and hurting the team further. This response — in both the show and in real life — is actually so powerful that it can be healing. Ted’s consistently positive response to his many critics is the essential first step in the team working toward a goal together, rather than fighting against each other.
It’s one of the lasting feelings this show imparts: positivity in the face of the worst. And while Ted Lasso might be a heroic example, this is within everyone’s power to offer.
Everyone needs to make a judgment call on how much resilience they want to invest in a given situation. But being positive and encouraging the good in others is always a heroic thing to do — even if you need to leave the situation because it’s costing too much.
Your growth from one job might play out in your next one
Growth is hard, and even sometimes painful. Sometimes, the space you need to grow requires a change of environment — whether to break old habits or simply find a new opportunity. We see this play out when Jamie Tartt gets traded to Manchester City, just as he seems to be maturing as a person and a teammate in Richmond.
This is fully revealed in the last game of the season when Jamie finally makes the “extra pass” for his new team to score the winning goal. This unselfish play was something Ted Lasso was consistently coaching Jamie to do, but we don’t see him learn until he has moved on.
Does this diminish the lesson he learned or the impact Ted had on him as a coach? Not in any way when you measure by character. Whether it just took time for Jamie to learn, or if he needed a fresh start to form better habits, what’s most important is that he finally took that step to grow. In any career, it’s better to always be learning and improving, no matter where you work or where you need to go to develop.
“What you do for the least of these” matters most to workplace culture
In the locker room — or any organization — there is a wide range of roles that need to be filled. Team culture emerges from how everyone experiences being part of the team — from the top leaders to support staff. Coach Lasso knew that they would not be able to build positive team culture while team members like Nate and Sam were experiencing a toxic environment. How any one member of a team is treated has an impact on the team as a whole.
Coach Lasso and Coach Beard knew the difference between enforcing rules and building culture. This is why they didn’t punish Jamie and his friends for bullying Nate. Instead, they responded in two ways: First, they set a clear example of how they would like Nate deserves to be treated; and second, they encouraged other team members (especially Roy) to lead the way for change.
“Because he’s the one, coach. If we’re gonna make an impact here, the first domino needs to fall right inside of that man’s heart,” Ted says to Coach Beard. By empowering Roy to be the enforcer, they created a new team leader, and set up lasting change for workplace culture.
Workplace culture is not all about big issues like bullying, though. Coach Lasso also knew the impact of small gestures that go a long way. One example is the birthday party for Sam, which helped the team come together over something more than just their work (the game). Another example: fixing the water pressure in the shower, which was a tangible reinforcement that he cared about his players’ needs, and went a long way building trust with Roy.
Coach Lasso is famous for his positive attitude dialogue, but his actions are what made the difference.
Leaders know when it’s their time to shine, and when to step aside
Coach Lasso spends a lot of time and energy in the first season coaching people to step into leadership roles: Jamie, Roy, Nate, to name a few. Each of them had moments when they realized they could best serve the team by stepping up and accepting more responsibility — instead of being a passive member.
But there is a moment at the end of the season when we see that true leadership doesn’t just mean knowing when to step up, but also when to step back for the sake of the team. Coach Lasso never makes the decision to bench Roy when they all realize his lack of speed is a liability to the team in a crucial game. Roy, having grown as a leader throughout the season, realizes he needs to let someone else start the game, even if it means giving up his position as captain.
One of my all-time favorite leadership quotes comes from a real-life soccer player: Abby Wambach. “If you’re not a good leader on the bench, you cannot call yourself a good leader on the field,” she said in an interview. Both rising stars and veteran leaders will only be most effective when they realize that true leadership isn’t about your title or your position — it’s about the impact you make for your team.