Nate tells Ted in a scene that physically upsets me.
Ted Lasso is one of my all-time favorite shows. It’s funny, entertaining, and deeply human, with the right mix of story, action, and character development. The show has been nominated for 61 Primetime Emmys and many other awards. According to entertainment critic, Richard Roeper, “The pop culture references in Ted Lasso fly faster and more frequently than a string of expletives from Roy Kent when he’s in a particularly verbose mood.”
If you haven’t seen it yet, Ted Lasso is a sitcom about a syrupy-sweet Midwestern football coach transplanted to lead a premier United Kingdom football team (soccer for those in the USA). Ted creates a successful world-class football team in three seasons based on the principles of positive leadership.
The leadership lessons from Ted Lasso are extracted and examined in multiple places, from Harvard Business Review, Forbes, and The Guardian to every type of association and publication in between, and they cut across political lines.
Eventually, everybody comes to love Ted. He’s unique and can be jarring and awkward until you get to know him. Ted is a leader who creates a positive culture that brings out the best in people; under his leadership, people and teams strive to perform better by constantly learning, showing appreciation, believing in themselves and the team, and showing empathy.
At the root of culture is behavior. Ted teaches and models positive, appreciative, empathic, and optimistic behaviors and expects others to behave the same way. If they don’t, he handles the situation respectfully and positively.
Below, I offer some examples of the behaviors Ted uses to create his high-performing, positive culture. They can all be adapted to you and your situation.
In one scene, Nate is yelling at Ted, and I was impressed with Ted’s response. This scene has many layers. First, Ted calmly listens and apologizes. He stays curious and non-judgmental. He doesn’t yell back or punch Nate like many viewers wish he had! You see, Nate screwed up, big time. Ted had transformed Nate’s career from clubhouse attendant to coach, so instead of yelling, he should have been grateful for all Ted had done for him. Still, Ted allowed Nate to talk, and he calmly listened.
Next, Ted started the conversation by asking Nate, “What do I have to learn here?” Instead of what many people might have asked, which is, “What’s the problem? What did I do wrong?” or, “What’s wrong with you?” This question, “What do I have to learn,” creates a positive, approachable environment that says, “I’m not blaming you.” Ted genuinely wanted to learn what was bothering Nate and fix it. As Nate unloads on Ted, while adrenaline is pumping (mine) and emotions are charged, Ted stays calm and focused on Nate. He listens and learns.
Appreciate the Person
A phrase Ted repeatedly uses is, “I appreciate you,” instead of “Thank you” or “I appreciate it.” This phase, “I appreciate you,” focuses on the person, not the task. It acknowledges the person with appreciation, not what they did. People feel more wholly seen when you show appreciation for them rather than their short-lived tasks, and being seen is a basic human need. People need you to acknowledge their authenticity and uniqueness. They need you to see them, not just someone who bags groceries or delivers reports on time. Appreciating others creates positive, trusting, and safe environments.
However, always being positive and happy can be damaging when difficulties are not acknowledged. This habit is called “fake gratitude” or “toxic positivity,” Ted does not suffer from it. He handles failures and difficult situations in positive, entertaining ways while constantly improving the team’s and each individual’s strengths and performance.
Be a Goldfish
Every situation has a bright side, and Ted Lasso can find it. Leaders with a gratitude foundation actively search for the positive. They see both the harsh reality and the positive side of things, and they don’t stay stuck in either one. For example, at the end of Season One, the team experiences a devastating loss and must go to a lower division. They’re crushed. The mood in the locker room is somber and depressing, as the players feel they have nothing for which to be grateful. Despite the circumstances, Ted finds something they can be grateful for and hang on to. Here’s his locker room speech, which allows the negative and the positive to exist simultaneously:
TED: I want you to be grateful that you’re going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you there is something worse out there than being low, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t nobody in this room alone.
The goldfish analogy is another technique Ted uses to balance the positive and negative. “Do you know what the happiest animal on Earth is? A goldfish,” Ted tells Sam after Sam underperforms. Why a goldfish? Because they have a ten-second memory and can quickly start fresh and stronger by putting failure in the past. The goldfish reference comes up a lot, and other people adapt it later. In this dialogue, Ted acknowledges the situation’s complex reality, provides space for sadness, anger, or failure, and then moves on. He leads by teaching and building on the goldfish concept.
TED: What do you think we should all do once we get done being sad and/or angry about this situation?
SAM (AFC Richmond Player): I think we should all be goldfish.
TED: I agree. Let’s be sad now; let’s be sad together, and then we can be a gosh darn goldfish.
Ted is authentically Ted. He’s quirky, awkward, and inspiring, and he doesn’t hide it; he walks his talk. His behaviors match who he is, and he works at it. Be like Ted Lasso, but be you. Find your inner, authentic self and align your behavior with the beautiful you that you are. That is the work of grateful leaders.
Because Ted is a fictional character, he can create a positive culture in three seasons that leads to a high-performing team. What he does also works in real life, but usually more slowly. I’ve seen it firsthand with grateful leaders. Results rarely come as fast or with as much closure in real life because real life is messier and doesn’t end in three seasons. Ted is a composite of the grateful leaders I interviewed, some of whom faced personal health crises, near suicides, betrayals, and other tragedies that they came through, largely due to gratitude.
Ted is the composite of grateful leaders who create positive cultures and get great results. All the examples are available for you to use and adapt now.
Takeaways – Ted’s Techniques Summarized
- Say, “What do I have to learn here?” Instead of, “What’s wrong? What’s bothering you?”
- Say, “I appreciate you,” instead of saying, “I appreciate what you did.”
- Always look for positives in the negative.
- Acknowledge the negative and then be a goldfish (forget it).
- Be authentic and make sure your behaviors match the authentic you.
- Repeat, build, and teach what you want to thrive in a culture.
Nate Yelling at Ted scene: Ted Lasso – Nate tells Ted the Truth – YouTube
Be a Goldfish scene: Be a Goldfish – YouTube