The Return of “Ted Lasso” and the End of “Tyrannical” Managers?

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I absolutely loved the first season of the show “Ted Lasso” (available streaming through Apple TV+).

If you're not familiar, here is a preview:

Unlike my “Lean Whiskey” collaborator Jamie Flinchbaugh, I don't follow soccer, a.k.a. football — American MLS, English Premier League, or what have you.

But, I do love a show that's built around the premise that an American coach of a college football (American football) team is hired by a struggling (and fictional) English Premier League team, AFC Richmond.

I watched the series once and my wife wasn't really interested in it, until a mutual friend who is a school principal told her that Ted Lasso is “the best show about leadership on TV.” I agree!

My wife watched as I re-watched along with her, making sure I didn't give away any spoilers (I did not make that mistake).

Season 2 starts tomorrow, Friday July 23rd and, for us, it's “appointment television” (even though we can watch the first episode anytime this weekend).

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article the other day that was focused on sports coaches. But, there are applications to other workplaces where you might be a coach. In football, as Coach Lasso learns, the coach is called a “manager” (amongst other terms that are different or confusing to an American Football coach).

So, there are lessons that apply to managers in any industry as well. I hope you're able to access the article:

Why Real Coaches Want to Be Ted Lasso

He doesn't know anything about his sport, but he knows how to get the best of his players. An unexpected hit TV show has become ‘required watching' for coaches.

Embed from Getty Images

One section of the article really jumped out at me:

“The model for modern coaches evolving from [Vince] Lombardi to Lasso is a reflection of the shifting power dynamics in sports and how much has changed in management strategies over the past decade. Not every coach is relentlessly cheerful or comes to the office with freshly baked cookies for his boss. But it's hard to look around the business world and not see hints of Jason Sudeikis's character.”

Are there also “shifting power dynamics” in other businesses? Are the best leaders recognizing that talented people will increasingly take their talents to another company if they're not being treated well? Some are calling this the “Great Resignation of 2021.”

I'm not suggesting you take freshly baked “biscuits” to your manager.

Are we seeing changes in management strategies over the past decade in hospitals, factories, software companies, and retail settings? Are we seeing more “Good Jobs Strategy” companies or do bad leaders blame the employees who quit, calling them “disloyal” or else?

“I think it used to be an accepted leadership tactic to essentially abuse people,” said Brendan Hunt, one of the show's creators and writers who also plays Coach Beard, Lasso's sidekick. “I'm sure there are people who are, like, Now we're soft. We're not soft. We're just not morons. We see better ways to get the best out of people. Humiliating them in front of their peers is probably not high on the list.” 

As I've blogged about before (including here and here), I worked in an abusive workplace during my first year at General Motors. Our plant superintendent (the #2 leader just below the plant manager) humiliated people in front of others on a very regular basis. He wasn't getting the best out of people. We had some of the worst results (productivity and quality) in the company (and the entire auto industry).

Tyranny is out. Empathy is in. Coaches are getting the most of players by relating to them, not dictating to them, while keeping them accountable without coddling them. They are behaving more like Ted Lasso. “

We had tyrannical leadership. Thankfully, after a year, we got a new plant manager — a GM lifer who spent time being trained by Toyota at the famed NUMMI plant, Larry Spiegel.

Now, he wasn't a Ted Lasso clone. Far from it. But, he was a much better leader. He realted to people. He listened. He didn't blame. He realized he had to change the culture and that required a lot of hard work — as Ted Lasso realized.

As I've written about before, the words “accountable” and “accountability” get misused too often, especially in healthcare organizations. Good managers don't blame the players for poor performance. Good managers look at systems and culture — and they realize those things are THEIR responsibility.

“It doesn't matter that Lasso doesn't know anything about the sport. What happens on the pitch is the least demanding part of his job. He soothes the neuroses of his star players. He injects his role players with confidence. He uses his superpower of emotional intelligence to balance competing personalities, foster an environment where everyone is capable of good work and build the culture of a team initially resistant to his charms.” 

Now, I'm not saying you can drop any John-Wooden-quoting super-positive motivational speaker (or football coach) into a hospital and expect them to succeed as CEO.

But I think any leader can learn a little something from Ted Lasso. We'd all be better for it.

This part of the article really made me think of Lean management and leaders who create a culture of continuous improvement:

“The coaches who are secure enough to empower people around them tend to be the ones who understand that a good idea might come from anyone or anywhere. They have the curiosity to ask for help and the humility to accept it.”

I hope we can say this in any industry, especially in healthcare, where the human stakes and costs are so high:

“Tyranny is out. Empathy is in.”

We can also hopefully say that “humility is in.”

Again, we'll all be better off — patients, physicians, other clinicians, other staff, leaders at all levels.

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Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker who has worked in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. His latest book is Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. He also published the anthology Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.

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