Daniels adjunct faculty member Mia Elizardi shares her key takeaways from the Emmy-winning show
Whether you follow his example exactly and bring your boss a pink box of biscuits every morning or not, fictional soccer coach Ted Lasso has served as an unlikely source for lessons in leadership and teambuilding.
After launching during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Apple TV+ show Ted Lasso has carved out a successful niche, bringing smiles and laughs to fans around the world. The Emmy-award winning series about an American football coach taking over an English Premier League soccer club has delighted its audience and picked up a cult following in the business world. Does anyone else have a mug about being a goldfish sitting on their desk?
Not only does Lasso teach AFC Richmond to score goals and climb the league table, he serves as an inspirational model of 21st century leadership. Mia Elizardi, an adjunct faculty member in Executive Education at the Daniels College of Business, is a dedicated fan of the show and a professor who teaches leadership and talent development.
“This show is like a breath of fresh air; it’s an escape,” she said. Elizardi shared her favorite lessons from the show and how business leaders can apply them in their own workplace. This article contains show spoilers, so peruse with care if you haven’t completed the show.
1. Lean into vulnerability
For Elizardi, Lasso’s simple and unpretentious way of acknowledging his vulnerabilities is one of his strongest attributes. Whether it’s his lack of soccer knowledge or how he addresses his own mental health journey, Lasso’s ability to accept help is a key tenet of his leadership style.
“There’s no way that leaders today can see around every corner, and understand how inflation, the pandemic and global wars, and all these things going on can affect us,” Elizardi said. Lasso displays this most on the soccer pitch, accepting help from a variety of different sources.
2. Be open to good ideas that can come from anywhere
By acknowledging his shortcomings, Lasso is able to clearly see the strengths of those around him. As a result, he’s willing to accept suggestions from people throughout his organization, not just those at the leadership level.
Fans of the show will remember that Lasso’s greatest tactical advantage in the first season came from AFC Richmond’s kit manager Nathan Shelley, a role not traditionally involved in team strategy.
“It’s not the CEO with the title that has all the ideas; the ideas truly come from anywhere, and we need to collaborate and mobilize them,” Elizardi said.
3. Be a goldfish
Lasso’s most recognizable lesson is to “be a goldfish,” because the short-memoried fish is one of the happiest animals in the world. While he uses it to encourage his players to not dwell on mistakes, Elizardi said this lesson also applies perfectly to the business world.
“If you’re spending all this time in your performance evaluations worried about your weaknesses and developmental plans, you aren’t tapping into what makes you effective and magical,” she said. “’Be a goldfish’ is a simple reminder to let it go and move on.”
4. Inspire confidence in those around you
As a leader, Lasso’s infectious joy and unrelenting support spreads confidence around the locker room like wildfire. In the business world, Elizardi said this has become a true differentiator in the war to retain talent.
“The new name of the game is all about talent management and strategic people alignment; figuring out how to find top talent, engage top talent, retain top talent and keep top talent performing,” she said. “I think that comes down to tapping into people’s individual strengths.”
With the support of his coaches and teammates, we see an interesting evolution with Richmond’s enigmatic star player, Jamie Tartt. Despite his reputation for selfishness in his past, Tartt blooms in Season 3, empowered to play his own style in crucial moments. The same tactics can be used in the business setting.
“Old school organizational models say, ‘here is your job description, competencies and skills you need to succeed.’ What Ted does brilliantly is he sees each person uniquely and individually for who they are and what their strengths and vulnerabilities are. He taps into really seeing them,” she said.
5. Doing the right thing is never the wrong thing
Whether in his personal life or as the coach of Richmond, Lasso puts his beliefs and morals at the top of his decision-making criteria. That mantra extends to those around him, as the show provides numerous examples of people spurning personal gain for the greater good. Take Lasso’s switch to “total football” near the end of Season 3 as an example. Gone are traditional roles, replaced by a free-flowing brand of soccer that gets everybody involved
Elizardi said decisions made in the dark will always show up in the light.
“The way we make decisions and how we show up when nobody is looking has a way of defining our leadership brand,” she said. “Ted Lasso so brilliantly focuses on being a good person and thinking about impact, and how we impact one another.”
6. Never stop learning
While it’s common knowledge in the business landscape that leaders should never stop learning, Ted Lasso shows the application of that lesson over three seasons. Once a soccer novice with little knowledge of the rules of the game, Lasso shows growth by the finale, ultimately implementing a winning strategy for his club. Elizardi said the challenge for real-life leaders is allowing themselves to have a beginner mindset and not pretending to be an expert in every challenge that arises.
“Ted Lasso thematically, in multiple areas, pushes on this idea of growing and learning. It takes vulnerability to have a beginner’s mindset, because in the business world, there’s so much we can’t know,” she said.
Lessons from the small screen
While it may seem strange to be deriving leadership lessons from a fictional, mustached midwestern soccer coach, Elizardi found the series full of lessons we frequently discuss, playing out on the screen in authentic and easily watchable ways.
“Not only is it delightful and puts a smile on your face, if you allow yourself to think about it, there are wonderful lessons and the way it teaches those pretty complex lessons in very approachable bites,” she said.
So next time you’re sitting in a boardroom, ask yourself, ‘What would Ted do?’