The wisdom of Ted Lasso: interim management lessons from a heartwarming TV hit

The wisdom of Ted Lasso: interim management lessons from a heartwarming TV hit

Lori Rubin, Head of our Consumer, Retail, Healthcare and Professional Services Interim Practices in the US, says the critically acclaimed comedy series about a sports coach has much to teach us about what makes a great interim manager.

Ted Lasso, the Apple TV+ comedy series starring Jason Sudeikis as the eponymous sports coach who has to overcome much skepticism and resistance to his methods, has quickly picked up a wide fanbase, including me, and plenty of critical acclaim. Last year, its first season was nominated for 20 Emmy awards, beating the record for most nominations for a freshman comedy set a decade earlier by Glee.  

In case you’re unfamiliar with the show, its premise centers on the appointment of small-time US college football coach, Ted Lasso, to manage fictional British soccer team, AFC Richmond. Ted is hired by the club’s owner, Rebecca Welton, in the hope that his lack of soccer knowledge will cause the team to fail.

Why would she want such a negative outcome? To spite the club’s previous owner, her two-timing ex-husband! With me so far?

The kicker—hey, this is a show set in the world of sports, of course there’s a kicker—is that although at first seeming way out of his depth, Lasso wins over the doubters. His folksy wisdom and skill at building a rapport allow him to defy expectations.  

Thankfully, interim managers are usually hired with success rather than failure in mind. And instead of offering up a fish out of water, we are careful to select candidates who are a good fit for your organization, typically with prior experience in delivering similar projects.

But setting aside these key distinctions, there is a lot we can learn from Ted Lasso about the key competencies of great interim managers. Let’s kick off:

  1. Adaptability. Interims are often hired at times of change or even crisis, sometimes on short notice. To succeed in new environments and cultures, adaptability is a must. Although it’s sometimes far from easy for him, Ted shows he has this quality in abundance when switching from football to soccer, and from Kansas to London
  2. Empathy. “You beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it. So just knock it off, go easy on yourself.” Ted repeatedly demonstrates he cares about the wellbeing of others. Sensitivity and empathy can be a vital component in the successful completion of assignments.
  3. Communication and teamwork. In one episode, Ted observes that you don’t need to be friends to be great teammates, citing Lennon and McCartney and even Toy Story characters Buzz and Woody as examples of folks who don’t always see eye to eye, yet through cooperation can create magic. Interims need to be team players and talented communicators, even more so considering their teammates are new to them, so trust must be established fast.
  4. Ability to drive change. “Most of the time change is a good thing,” Ted tells his team following a victory completed after benching Richmond’s selfish star player. While some interim appointments are stopgap measures, often interims are brought in to bring a fresh mindset to bear and help drive change.   
  5. Capability, competency and experience. Arguably as a soccer newbie, Ted has none of these vital qualities. Despite his abundant charm and many minor successes, Season 1 (spoiler alert!) culminates with relegation for the club, proving there really is no substitute for relevant experience and knowhow. When working on interim positions, these are must-have qualities our candidates bring, whatever your field of play.

I love Ted Lasso for its mix of warmth, poignancy, and comedy zingers. But another reason I’m such a fan of the show is its recurring theme of belief in overcoming challenges. A quality the talented interims I work with have in abundance.

For more information, please contact Lori Rubin.


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