What Ted Lasso Can Teach Us About Leading a Sales Team
“I think that’s what it’s all about: embracing change and being brave.”
While this line is very applicable to the events of this past year, it is actually taken from the Apple TV+ series “Ted Lasso.” The comedy is about an American football coach who moves to England after he’s hired to manage an English Premier League soccer team.
Though the premise is somewhat absurd, his leadership philosophy struck a chord with me. Based on the popularity of the show and its recent Golden Globe Award, it seems like the series is resonating with viewers as well. As a soccer fan and former coach of my kids’ teams, I could certainly relate to the subject matter.
The coach’s combination of humility and curiosity help him maintain optimism and hope. His leadership speaks to how to connect with the people he’s managing and motivate them – whether they’re on a soccer field or outside of it. While the show plays for laughs, the underlying themes could not be more true or relevant to supporting sales managers and getting the best out of every member of the team.
5 Lessons for Sales Managers from "Ted Lasso"
1. You don’t have to be the best player on the field to be a great coach.
Ted Lasso doesn’t know anything about the game when he arrives in England, but he understands the importance of getting to know his team. Tactics are one thing. Mentality and motivation are completely different. Lasso doesn’t let his ego get in the way of empowering those around him. By definition, you can’t get onto the field and play the game for your people. As managers, we often want to do that on a sales call. The best sales managers prepare their people so once they’re “on the field,” the manager’s involvement isn’t necessary.
2. Sometimes you have to bench your best player for the sake of the team.
In the show, Lasso’s best player is taking all the glory for himself, so the coach benches him. Needless to say, it’s not a popular decision, at first. But it sends a message to the rest of the team – they play better when the focus is on the team, not on one individual. And it sends a message to the star player, too.
We have all seen this with a sales superstar – the one who’s crushing their quota but who rubs the rest of the team the wrong way, breaks the rules, and does things against your direction as the sales manager. It makes it hard to reinforce the policies and guidance for everyone else. It takes courage to bench the top player, but the long-term results can be higher overall performance. And it lets the star know that part of their job is to help the rest of the team, too. If your star seller is bringing down the performance of the rest of the team, are they really a star?
Likewise, you have to know when to let people go, whether that’s someone close to you, as Lasso realizes he has to do in the show, or a sales prospect that’s stuck in the pipeline.
3. When things go wrong, be a goldfish.
There’s an often-repeated assertion that goldfish have an attention span of nine seconds. (It’s not true, but that’s beside the point.) It’s one of Ted Lasso’s go-to lines in the show. When your team loses a game or a sales deal falls through, be like a goldfish. Think about the loss, reflect on what happened, learn from it – then forget it and move on to the next thing. Keep swimming forward.
4. Be humble and curious and you will find the answers.
“Ted Lasso” gives us wonderful examples of curiosity as the coach asks questions and learns about the people around him. He admits there’s a lot he doesn’t know. Lasso is always willing to learn and doesn’t pretend he’s an expert on things he’s not.
We also see the perils of overconfidence. In one episode, Lasso is challenged to a high-stakes darts game by an opponent who mistakenly believes that Americans don’t play darts. (Spoiler alert.) Had the challenger been more curious, he would have discovered beforehand that Lasso had played darts with his dad for decades. Lasso wins the game and his opponent is forced to swallow his pride. You’ll find answers more quickly if you are curious, humble, and observant.
5. Sometimes people just need a reason to believe.
Lasso literally has the word BELIEVE taped up in his office. He also has one taped above the mirror in his bathroom at home. It seems incongruous while his team is losing every game, but he doesn’t let go of his vision or his belief in his players. He focuses on the future. In the process, he demonstrates that people will work hard for something larger than themselves when they know the why and have a reason to believe in it.
We won’t spoil how the 10-episode “Ted Lasso” season unfolds, but we will share that ultimately, for Lasso, the goal isn’t winning (although of course that would be great). He earnestly wants to see his players become better people on and off the field. To that end, he lets them resolve internal team conflicts and gives them the benefit of the doubt in complex situations. And in the end, he has us all believing. His goal is long term, because a real team that grows together is stronger than any one superstar.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is CEO and Managing Director at Sales Readiness Group (SRG). He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.