There’s something about simple wisdom that just resonates. More than a century after his death, people still swear by the country wit and life lessons of Mark Twain. Harry Truman’s midwestern values and straight-talking style were a mainstay of American political life during a critical time in our history. And who can forget Paul Harvey, who brought us The Rest of the Story with folkish storytelling and a down-home feel that brought together millions of people every day to listen to his tales.

We like things simple. We love a good story. We like to slow things down a bit, to stop and smell the flowers. Simplicity appeals to us.

So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that when Ted Lasso debuted on Apple TV, the character – and the eponymous television show – was an immediate hit. The premise was ludicrous: a struggling British football club recruits a down-on-his-luck American football to revive the franchise, despite the fact the coach (Ted Lasso, played by Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis) has no experience or knowledge with that particular brand of football.

And the world fell in love with Ted Lasso.

Leadership and Storytelling

As a coach, Ted Lasso brings together the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain with the midwestern ways of Harry Truman and conveys the lessons of life like a modern-day Paul Harvey. His simply, folksy approach to leading his team is maddeningly effective. Ted Lasso’s style is antithetical to the high-paced, high-stakes world of the English Premiere League, yet his results are impossible to ignore (no matter how hard people try).

Ted Lasso (the man) is much more than a football coach, and Ted Lasso (the television program) is more than a sports show. On the surface, Ted Lasso is about an odd duck of a coach and a down-and-out football team. But, just below the surface, Ted Lasso is a redemption story. And we all love second chances.

Ted Lasso is a man whose life has imploded and takes a hopeless job in a seemingly vain attempt to earn a second chance. The team’s star player is a self-absorbed narcissist in need of being part of something bigger than himself. The team’s true leader is a player in the twilight of his career looking for one last chance to prove his worth. The team has been demoted from the Premiere League, the ownership is in disarray, and the cast of supporting characters are misfits. Everyone (and everything) is in search of a second chance.

And in the midst of it all stands Ted Lasso.

It’s About the People, Stupid

Ted Lasso might not know the game of (British) football, but he knows people. He understands the interactions, the personalities, and the challenges those people bring to the game. He knows how to bring those people together and build them into a team. A pinch of Mark Twain, a dash of Harry Truman, and a sprinkle of Paul Harvey. All delivered with the homespun Kansas wisdom that can only come from someone like Ted Lasso.

From the outset, his lesson is simple: it’s about the people. Spoken like a midwestern version of Sun Tzu, Ted Lasso’s wisdom is heartfelt and necessary. Whether they realize it or not, everyone in Ted Lasso needs Ted Lasso. Including Ted Lasso himself.

  1. “You know what the happiest animal on earth is? It’s a goldfish. You know why? It’s got a 10-second memory.” We all mistakes. Allow people to learn from them and grow. Don’t dwell on the past: be a goldfish.
  2. “I think that you might be so sure that you’re one in a million, that sometimes you forget that out there you’re just one in 11.” You’re special, just like everyone else. Be a team player.
  3. “There’s two buttons I never like to hit, all right? And that’s ‘panic’ and ‘snooze.’” Life is an endless series of challenges. Don’t sweat it; take it as it comes. Keep calm and carry on.
  4. “If you care about someone, and you got a little love in your heart, there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.” We go farther together. Be a team: look out for each other, care for one another.
  5. “You beating yourself up is like Woody Allen playing the clarinet. I don’t want to hear it.” As Colin Powell said, “Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.” Don’t get down on yourself. This too shall pass.
  6. “Boy, I love meeting people’s moms. It’s like reading an instruction manual as to why they’re nuts.” Don’t judge a book by its cover. There is always more to people than what’s on the surface and, as a leader, it’s important to take the time to understand them.
  7. “I promise you there is something worse than being sad, and that’s being alone and being sad. Ain’t no one in this room alone.” As a team, we win together, and we lose together. But we are always together. We are always a team.
  8. “If God would have wanted games to end in a tie, she wouldn’t have invented numbers.” There’s a certain Vince Lombardi feel to Ted Lasso. If you’re in it, then you’re in it to win it. Don’t play for the tie. Play for the win.
  9. “Your body is like day-0ld rice. If it ain’t warmed up properly, something real bad could happen. There is no substitute for proper preparation, whether you’re stretching before a long run or training for an upcoming deployment. Practice makes perfect.
  10. In the pilot episode, Ted Lasso is asked whether he believes in ghosts: “I do. But more importantly, I think they need to believe in themselves. You know?” Believe is the central theme of Ted Lasso. Believe in yourself. Believe in your teammates. Believe in the team.

Leadership, like Ted Lasso, is about setting a clear azimuth, forging the bonds of teamwork, and igniting a competitive spirit. At its core, leadership is about people. As someone far more wise than me once said, “Take care of them, and they’ll take care of you.”

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options, and the podcast, The Smell of Victory; co-founder and former board member of the Military Writers Guild; and a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal. He is the author of five books, numerous professional articles, countless blog posts, and is a prolific military cartoonist.