5 leadership lessons for new leaders in challenging work environments
There are so many Lasso Lessons that I quote to my coaching clients who are navigating new leadership positions, but by far the biggest leadership takeaway is that trust building is the name of the game. No one can be successful in a new role without building trust with their key stakeholders. No one. Especially if you’re starting a leadership role in a challenging, hostile, or unfamiliar work environment, like many of my clients, trust building must be your top priority.
Here are five lessons I’ve learned from Ted Lasso’s relentless pursuit of trust:
1. Everyone’s equally valuable to the team’s success, no matter their place on the org chart. Whether he’s interacting with Rebecca (AFC Richmond’s owner) or Nate (the kitman) Ted treats everyone with the same level of respect. In several episodes he asks Rebecca and Higgins to join the team for social activities. In some scenes, he not only asks Nate for his opinion, but encourages him to share it with others who have more power. Likewise, he reminds star player Jamie Tartt that his talent may be one in a million, but on the pitch he’s one of eleven.
You can implement this principle by showing the same levels of appreciation and respect to those who produce the core of what the company sells and the support staff. A common mistake in tech companies is to prize the engineers over the marketing team; at nonprofits, externally facing service providers often get more praise than the IT folks; in government, policy makers may forget to acknowledge the analysts and advisors who did the background research on which they base their decisions. The more you can instill a culture of mutual respect with the explicit and consistent message that everyone’s role helps the organization fulfill its mission, the more motivated everyone will be.
2. Follow through on promises, big and small. Coach Lasso knows that a key element of trust building is establishing your credibility – and credibility is rooted in consistency. So in parallel to learning the basic rules of soccer, he asks for anonymous requests from the team and gets the opportunity to fix the water pressure in the shower.
If you’re coming into an environment with low trust levels, it would serve you well to get some early, easy wins. To be sure, they need to be followed up with other kinds of results, but it’s wiser to deliver quickly on small promises than to make big promises that may not be possible down the line.
3. Em.Pa.Thy. In arguably the most moving scene in the entire season, a character confesses something terrible they did to sabotage Ted’s chances of succeeding. Upon hearing what happened, he hugs the person and offers forgiveness. But he didn’t just say it’s okay and then change the subject. In his response, he expresses that he understood the person’s specific motivation for hurting him and thanks them for the good that’s come from it.
Most of us don’t experience TV-like confrontations in the real world – but how would our workplaces be better if we were able to offer these same levels of deep empathy, selflessness, and forgiveness to people whose immediate needs seem to clash with ours? More than anything, I believe they would increase accountability exponentially, which is sorely lacking in most workplaces where trust is also missing.
4. Be curious, not judgmental. How does Coach Lasso turn his greatest liability – his inexperience coaching football – into an asset? He surrounds himself with people who have more subject matter expertise and he asks a lot of questions. By seeking out and relying on more experienced professionals, he’s modeling that curiosity and vulnerability are necessary to succeed.
If you’ve ever been chided for not being ready with an answer or information (pop quiz style) or been put down for asking a question, you may be cynical about this point. But is it really “easier said than done?” If you’re coming into a new leadership role in a challenging work environment, you have the opportunity to inch the culture toward more positivity by both asking questions and encouraging others to do the same. And if all else fails, play the darts scene from episode 8 at your next staff meeting.
5. Win over “The One.” Ted’s keen understanding of human nature serves him well, especially when it comes to building rapport among the team. He recognizes dormant leadership potential in the team captain, he methodically gets him on his side so that he can have a more positive influence on the team from the inside.
Finding influential allies is invaluable when it comes to increasing your impact. Map out the people who surround you – when you can compare their interests and standing to your own, you can identify areas of shared values and subtly encourage them to join you in certain change efforts you’re pursuing.
In these five areas, Coach Ted Lasso successfully builds trust among AFC Richmond’s leadership, team, and fanbase. The brilliance, however, is that anyone can follow in his footsteps if they just believe.