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Four thoughts on “Ted Lasso” and leadership

Nick Mohammed, Brendan Hunt, Jason Sudeikis and Brett Goldstein in “Ted Lasso” season two, now streaming on Apple TV+.

Well, season two of “Ted Lasso” has ended, and those of us who are fans of the show are left to unpack each episode of this sports-based comedy-drama. While the popular Apple TV+ show is technically about an American college football coach hired to coach an English soccer team, it carries the deeper message that respect, vulnerability, fairness, inclusion, diversity, love and basic human kindness play an important role in leadership. It also carries lessons for the church.

In the first season of “Ted Lasso,” Coach Lasso recognized the low morale and untapped potential in the team, coaching and administrative staff. Season two demonstrates that effective leadership requires vulnerability, even if it is uncomfortable. The show asks of its viewers: What do you do when you enter a space filled with self-doubt and self-loathing, negativity and mistrust? I believe this question, and how it is dealt with on the show, is an important question for leaders in the church to consider.

1. Good leaders meet people where they are. Like Ted’s approach to the soccer team, good leaders accept people without attempting to “fix” them or change their hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26, God tells us: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Changing hearts is God’s work, not ours. So, being a great leader does not mean that everyone will like you and follow you, and this is all right. We do not have the power to “change” people, but we do have the ability to model for them Christ-like behavior.

2. Good leaders work through confrontation. Ted knows how to deal with adversity, but he really does not like dealing with it. Ted’s characteristic Midwestern kindness boosts his team’s confidence and encourages them to see the good in themselves and each other. Yet, it is this very trait that tends to blindside him when dealing with his staff, some of whom are discontent. Confrontation is one of Ted’s weaknesses. But when things are not going right, we must be courageous enough to address and try to resolve them quickly, to keep ministry, work, family or relationships going.

3. Good leaders must be willing to hear the truth about their own “blind spots” and embrace vulnerability. Now, as any good church leader knows, no one can do everything, even if we think we can. Ministry is so intricate yet rewarding, draining yet life-giving. This means we make mistakes. And admitting our mistakes allows others to see us as fellow human beings. Vulnerability allows us to connect to others in a wholistic, unthreatening way. Just as Dr. Sharon had to be vulnerable with Ted to get him to open up, we must be vulnerable as well. This season, we saw Ted struggle with his unhealed trauma — the suicide of his father when he was a teenager. Acknowledging his past leads Ted to be vulnerable with his staff and, eventually, the team. And what was their response? They acknowledged his pain and fears, offering forgiveness, grace, and understanding.

4. Good leaders help people see things in a new way and walk alongside them on their journey of discovery, at least part of the way. I believe when a pastor, supervisor or director enters a new environment, they must decide how they are going to lead and how they will develop other leaders. But as any seasoned leader or pastor will tell you, change must be incremental. Your congregants or employees want to get to “know” you — how you work, your expectations of them, your attitude towards them and the work. They also want to know how the changes you are going to make will affect them. Ted understood the assignment, even if he was initially brought in (unbeknownst to him) to ruin the team. He made space for every voice to be heard. His dedication to the team and his desire to see everyone “win,” reminds me of a piece of advice one of my mentors once gave me, “Make people a part of the plan or they will attack the plan.” As leaders, and those we lead, we must acknowledge that we will not always get “our” way in every situation. However, compromise is always a good option, and hearing everyone’s point of view is not necessarily a bad thing.

As we heard from the character Higgins this season: “a good mentor hopes you will move on; a great mentor knows you will.” That is a leader’s job in a nutshell: to create strong leaders who will be prepared to lead, no matter where they are. And isn’t that what Jesus did with the disciples? In a (perhaps unintentional) echo of the leadership demonstrated by our Lord and Savior, “Ted Lasso” offers church leaders important lessons and examples of what inclusive, vulnerable leadership can look like.

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