What the insurance industry can learn from the leadership of Ted Lasso (part 2)

Thanks to everyone who decided to come back to read Part 2 of this article. If you haven’t had a chance to read part 1, I suggest you read that first. Here’s the link: “What the insurance industry can learn from the leadership of Ted Lasso.”

Ted Lasso is a show about an American college football coach who’s hired to lead a professional soccer (or what the rest of the world calls football) team in London. This “fish out of water” story shows that, in insurance or any other industry, you don’t have to be an expert in a particular field to be an effective leader. 

As a refresher, the main lessons from the show that we discussed in Part 1 were:

  • Be yourself
  • Catch people doing things well
  • Be kind
  • Be open to new ideas
  • In coaching, one size does not fit all
  • Focus on lessons for life, not for just sports
  • Ask rather than tell

Here are several coaching lessons from episodes 4–6 that apply to the insurance industry and to leadership in general, so be sure to watch those episodes before reading this. 

Be vulnerable

Ted chooses to be vulnerable from day one. What we don’t know is whether his vulnerability is a personality trait or a learned behavior. Regardless, it always comes across as authentic. Ted is willing to share personal anecdotes that others might try to take advantage of or make fun of, and he isn’t concerned about what others may do with the information he shares. Like many other great leaders in the insurance business and elsewhere, Ted understands that one of the boldest things a leader can choose is to be vulnerable. With his vulnerability, Ted allows others to truly see him and creates an environment of psychological safety wherein they realize they can let down their guard around him as well.

To borrow a quote from Brene Brown, “To love is to be vulnerable, to give someone your heart and say, ‘I know this could hurt so bad, but I’m willing to do it; I’m willing to be vulnerable and love you.'” As the show progresses, Ted’s willingness to be vulnerable endears him to the team and everyone around him. He not only empathizes with people but invites them to empathize with him. This interpersonal emotional regulation creates a higher level of working relationship. In many ways, that vulnerability pivots so many of his initial doubters to become his advocates and biggest fans. It helps everyone on the team be themselves and become closer to one another.

See different perspectives

Great coaches and business leaders can step out of their own experiences and see the world through other peoples’ eyes. The best leaders and coaches can get others to do the same. In episode 4, Ted attempts to “Parent Trap” Roy and Jamie and get them to find some mutual respect and common ground. 

Ted is executing some ninja-level interpersonal relationship moves. Ted asks Roy what he was like when he was Jamie’s age. Of course, Roy remembers that he was a lot like Jamie: “a primadonna.” He’s doing what researchers describe as “dual-perspective shifting.” Ted not only can empathically understand Roy’s situation but also maintains his own perspective and intentions while guiding Roy to reflect on a younger version of himself. He accomplishes this all while predicting the outcome of this maneuver on Jamie. More simply put, he has a great ability to put himself in other people’s shoes and gain empathy for who they are and what they are going through. 

Create a common language and culture

The best teams, in the office and on the field, have developed a shared and common history and speak in their own “shorthand.” By shorthand, I mean they have adopted words or phrases that have meaning within the organization. For example, early on, Ted placed a banner in the locker room with one word on it, “Believe.” “Believe” is used throughout the series and becomes part of the team’s identity. Among countless other examples of words and phrases that the team adopts, everyone on the team knows what it means to “be a goldfish by the end of the season.” The team continues to develop its own unique culture and habits.

In episode 6, the team gets a bit of a club history lesson. To expel some “ghosts of the past,” Ted asks the team to offer something personally meaningful as a sign of respect to those who previously have made sacrifices. Each team member was asked to bring something of value to them to the ceremony and to burn it in a fire. By honoring the past together, the team creates a stronger bond, a sense of belonging to something bigger than themselves. It’s an “ego stripping” process that breaks down the barriers to forming the essential connections necessary for high performance. The best teams honor their past and do their best to 1) Live up to that legacy, and 2) Leave the jersey in a better place than when they got there.

If you have ever been part of a great team or insurance organization, you can very easily think of words, phrases, and shared events that are seared into your brain forever. Even after you’ve left that team or organization, any time you see someone that was part of the same team, even if they were there at a different time, you immediately share a sense of camaraderie and know the same “lingo.” There is a sense of pride that you can consider yourself a member of that “family.”

Pay close attention

Ted is constantly scanning the room and paying close attention to everyone and everything going on, but he has the capacity to readily shift to a narrow focus, such as when he picked up on what type of person Rupert Mannion, former owner of AFC Richmond, really is, even though so many others are enamored with him. Ted may have been the only one who realized that Rupert was responsible for Robbie Williams’ cancellation at the auction (episode 4).

In episode 5, Jamie was having a great game. The fans were cheering and almost everyone was excited, but Ted realized that Jamie’s teammates were not celebrating his goals. Ted paid attention long enough to realize that he had to bench Jamie. It was the right thing to do for the team. Paying close attention, both broad at times, and narrow at others, helps you pick up on nuances that others may miss.

One other thing to add about paying attention: Ted always remains positive and focused on the good (again, ninja-level emotional regulation). We know by now that Ted has some legitimate pain in his marriage. Despite this, Ted is able to maintain focus on his core values and continue to remain kind, optimistic, and positive. When Nate begins to celebrate the fact that Jamie has been benched, both Ted and Coach Beard proclaim one of their steadfast rules: “no schadenfreude!” For those that are not familiar with the term, “schadenfreude” is essentially finding pleasure in the pain of others. Ted’s “no schadenfreude” rule says a lot about the kind of person he is.

Most people want to do the right things and expect others to do the right things too. But sometimes people can struggle with that, and it is easy to cheer against someone who hasn’t been playing nicely. We often love to see people get their comeuppance. Ted realizes that change is hard, and everyone has their own battles to fight. Because of this, life’s lessons can be painful for people to endure. Ted makes it clear that while he wants to have people learn from life’s lessons, he (and we) should always want to be empathetic and help them through tough times. His “no schadenfreude” rule is a great rule for every team and leader to abide by.

Practice makes perfect

When Jamie claims he can’t practice because he’s hurt, pretty much everyone on the team realizes that Jamie is faking his injury simply because he has been benched. When Ted is concerned about the fact that Jamie can’t practice, Jamie says, “Relax Ted, it’s just practice.” 

In American sports, there was a story from a number of years ago where a famous basketball player couldn’t believe that his coach was making such a big deal about practice. Similar to Jamie saying “Relax Ted, it’s just practice,” that player kept saying, “We’re talking about practice.” This player didn’t realize the importance of practice, just like Jamie.

When Jamie says “Relax Ted, it’s just practice,” this is the first time we see Ted get visibly upset. Ted takes the phrase “We’re talking about practice” and turns it on its head. His intonation makes all the difference. The mastery of this move is the dissonance created by what he is saying and what he is communicating. His non-verbal energy (posture, tone of voice) creates a message that cannot be ignored.

“We’re talking about practice. The only place we get to play together, we’re talking about practice. The only time we’ve got control over. The rest of the time, it’s us 11 against those 11.”

You see what Ted understands, and what Jamie clearly doesn’t, is that the absolute best competitors in sports and in life take practice as seriously as when playing in the game or performing in their job. They realize that practice is where you hone your skills and prepare for as many potential scenarios as you could possibly foresee. There are numerous stories of how the best players of all time are relentless during practice. Many are said to be “First in, last out” of practice or at work. They realize that practicing makes game time that much easier.

There are countless stories about some of the greatest competitors of all time like Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, and Tom Brady bringing everything they have to practice to make sure the team is fully prepared come game time. Whatever you do, put in the practice and walk through potential scenarios and outcomes. The more work and practice you put in, the better each team member will be. According to Harvard Business Review, “if-then planners” are about 300% more likely than others to reach their goals. In other words, practice makes perfect.

The lessons I’ve covered here resonate throughout this series and align with a deeper theme of developing empathy and understanding for your teammates. Great teams, in the office and on the field, are built where all the members realize they are fortunate to be working to create something greater than themselves. And, by working together and leveraging the varying skills and experiences of everyone in the room, what they form can truly be greater than the sum of its parts. ]

Stay tuned for next post, which will outline some lessons from the final four episodes. Thanks to John Woolf and April Brackett for your help in making this article better.

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