“Just listen to your gut, and on the way down to your gut, check in with your heart. Between those two things, they’ll let you know what’s what.” – Ted Lasso (2020)

Fiction has long been a laboratory for exploring the dynamics of leadership. From Once an Eagle’s simplistic portrayal of military leadership to The Caine Mutiny’s deeply nuanced exploration of leadership under duress, the genre provides a space in which to delve into the complexities of the art of leading others. The characterizations span from heroic to cowardly, capable to inept, and empathetic to downright sociopathic. Spend enough time with the genre, and you’ll find a leadership style to ponder and debate.

And then along came Ted Lasso.


From the outset, Ted Lasso seemed like an unlikely character on an unlikely stage. An American college football coach recruited to lead a struggling English Premier League soccer team—despite having no experience in the sport—Ted Lasso comes across more Andy Griffith than Vince Lombardi. His folksy midwestern manner contrasts sharply with his new surroundings; his country optimism seems totally out of place in the high stakes world of the Premier League.

But the eponymous character—based on a series of promotional shorts Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis produced for NBC Sports’ coverage of the Premier League—slowly and steadily wins over his detractors. And, with a stack of Emmy Awards to show for the effort, Ted Lasso clearly won over audiences, as well.

Yet Ted Lasso was only getting warmed up. The character exploded onto the pages of Forbes, Inc., Fast Company, and countless others. What made a fictional character so fascinating to some of the leading business publications in the world? His leadership style. Ted was so much different in so many ways than the typical fictional leaders we see portrayed. He was honest to a fault, genuine in the face of criticism and failure, and true to himself at every turn.

Ted Lasso was the prototypical authentic leader.


Ted Lasso’s style is all his own. He’s as authentic a leader as you’ll find, in this world or any fictional one. But, even in the fairy tale world of Ted Lasso, the character is a model for how to lead in the world today. Be yourself. Just do it.

Authentic leaders aren’t soft. They’re pragmatic, but human. They focus on results, but sincerely care about people. And they’re confident in who they are and what they represent. They don’t put on airs. In the timeless words of former NFL head coach Dennis Green, “They are who we thought they were.” At the end of the day, there are five key characteristics that reveal authentic leadership:

1. Self-aware and genuine.

A truly authentic leader doesn’t have the time or the inclination to be anyone but themselves. They know who they are, they’re comfortable in their own skin, and they cultivate the best in those around them.

2. Lead with the heart.

Authentic leaders genuinely care for those they lead, and they aren’t afraid to show their emotions or vulnerabilities. They leverage an innate sense of empathy to connect on a much deeper and more personal level and to build lasting relationships that engender trust and confidence.

3. Inspire trust and faith.

Successful leadership is rooted in the ability to influence others. Authentic leaders build on the trust and confidence they inspire in others to forge effective teams capable of achieving success where other teams might fail. That leap of faith—the confidence to face down seemingly insurmountable obstacles—is the hallmark of authentic leadership.

4. Focused on the long-term.

Building successful teams isn’t a pickup game. It takes time and an investment in people. Authentic leaders inherently understand that successful team building comes from patience, talent management, and professional development, and they commit to the time required to achieve that success.

5. Disciplined and mission driven.

Authentic leaders play the long game, and they tend to strategize with a deep and abiding commitment to the mission, exhibiting the same discipline and patience they invest in building their teams. It’s never about power, money, or ego: authentic leaders pursue results because the mission always comes before self-interest.

So, the next time you sit down to stream a little Ted Lasso, remember that Ted is who we all aspire to be. Authentic, genuine, and his true self. That’s a leader we can all respect and admire. Even if he’s not real.


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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 co-founder and emeritus board member of the Military Writers Guild; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options; a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal; a member of the editorial advisory panel of Military Strategy Magazine; and an emeritus senior fellow at the Modern War Institute at West Point. He is the author, co-author, or editor of several books and is a prolific military cartoonist.