What the insurance industry can learn from the leadership of Ted Lasso (part 1)

As someone who’s constantly on the lookout for books, podcasts, shows, or movies that provide insights into great leadership and coaching for the insurance industry or in general, I often get suggestions from my friends. Several months ago, a few friends recommended I check out a show called Ted Lasso on Apple TV+. For anyone looking for some great tips on leadership and coaching, in insurance or in life, look no further. 

Before reading the rest of this blog, if you haven’t yet watched Ted Lasso, please stop what you’re doing immediately and invest the five hours necessary to watch the entire first season. I’m kidding. But if you’re passionate about leading or coaching people in the insurance industry or otherwise, it’ll be time well spent.

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. Here are several coaching lessons from the first three episodes of the show that apply to the insurance industry and to leadership in general. 

Be yourself

Ted is very comfortable with who he is. With self-deprecating humor, he exudes confidence in the things he does know, and he’s honest about what he doesn’t know. In the first episode, it becomes abundantly clear that Ted knows very little about the actual game of soccer. Ted believes his mission is coaching his team members to be the best they can be and teaching them to trust themselves, trust each other, and work together. He expects his team and those around him to be experts in what they need to do, and for winning to be the eventual by-product of their work.

Frankly, this is refreshing, and it fully aligns with the real world of management in insurance or any industry. In many fields, managers are not, nor should they be, experts in what their teams are doing. Their role is often to lead and provide strategic direction and support. In fact, in many cases, when a manager is an expert in a particular area, they may end up spending too much time micromanaging or doing the work themselves rather than relying on their team to deliver results. Ted is comfortable letting the experts do their thing, and it pays off. 

Catch people doing things well

When we first meet Nate, the kit man for the team, he has very low confidence. From their earliest encounters, Ted is quick to point out things that Nate is doing well, even something as small as the way Nate mixes the team’s sports drink. Over the course of the season, Ted’s ability to catch Nate and others doing the right thing helps them all increase their self-confidence. 

Ted recognizes the value of positive reinforcement as a mechanism for behavior change, and instills in others a sense of worthiness: that they belong, are important, and will contribute to something larger.

Be kind

From baking biscuits for the boss, handing out compliments, and saying “I appreciate you,” to planning a celebration for a team member who’s homesick, Ted constantly tries to “fight fire” with kindness.

Even when people are mean to Ted, he does his best to respond with kindness. Whether it’s being called a “wanker” or being made fun of for not knowing anything about the sport he’s coaching, Ted keeps an upbeat attitude and responds with kind words and a smile.

There are many other examples, including one of my favorites, when Ted eats extremely hot food to make sure a cab driver looks good in front of his father-in-law. In the insurance industry or in general, being kind to others pays off. Over time, more and more people begin to care about and root for nice people to do well.

Be open to new ideas

Ted’s willing to consider suggestions from anyone, starting by asking for ideas via a suggestion box, and, importantly, he acts on them. Making some simple changes that people have asked for, like improving the water pressure in the showers, shows that Ted is paying attention and “controlling what he can control.” 

Whether it’s in insurance or in any other industry, by being open to new ideas, more people will feel included and be willing to offer even more suggestions. The more different people and perspectives are heard, the higher likelihood of success. And, in any organization, making incremental changes eventually leads to big changes and increased momentum.

In coaching, one size does not fit all

In insurance and in life, the best coaches tailor their approach to each individual. From giving each player different books, to changing his coaching approach depending on every person he’s working with, Ted manages to eventually break through to the entire team. Some people are ready for coaching from day one, while others take more time. Some folks like to be coached in one way, others prefer a different approach. Like the greatest coaches out there, Ted realizes he’ll get the best results by treating each individual in a way that motivates them.

Focus on lessons for life, not for just sports

When pushed by a reporter to explain why he’s doing something as crazy as coaching a sport he knows nothing about, Ted says, “I love coaching. For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best version of themselves on and off the field.” Ted is constantly working on making everyone on the team better people, and better people are better friends, spouses, parents, and teammates.

In insurance and other industries, many teams and leaders put up with toxic individuals because they’re delivering great results. Over time, this can lead to other members of the team becoming disengaged and disenchanted. As Ted is focused on making his team members better people, rather than on wins, he makes some difficult decisions on who to play and who to bench. In the long run, these decisions are the right ones to make, but unfortunately in the insurance industry and the real world, many leaders aren’t confident enough to make them.

Ask rather than tell

The best coaches let people draw their own conclusions, knowing that people are much more willing to do something when they make the decision on their own rather than when they’re told to. Roy doesn’t understand why Ted gives him the book “A Wrinkle in Time,” but after reading the “story of a young girl’s struggle with the burden of leadership as she journeys through space,” he realizes he has to step up and lead the locker room. Essentially, Ted uses the book’s story to get Roy to change his thinking. 

Trent Crimm, a journalist on the show, sums up Ted’s approach quite nicely, and it’s something insurance leaders can learn from: “His coaching is subtle; it never hits you over the head. It slowly grows until you can no longer ignore its presence. Whether that means allowing followers to become leaders or, in a show of respect, eating food so spicy it’s sure to wreak massive havoc on his intestinal system, I can’t help but root for him.”

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