I recently finished season 3 of Ted Lasso. And even though I was late to the party,I LOVED it. While I am not generally a sportsperson, I am passionate about building high-performing individuals, teams and organisations.
Ted Lasso is the type of leader and coach I aspire to be. Someone who is:
- brave enough to say ‘I don’t know’
- brave enough to try something new, even when unsure of the outcome
- willing to trust others
- always kind and forgiving
- flawed but does not let his flaws hold him back.
But it wasn’t Ted who stood out for me as I ended the series but rather a scene featuring Coach Roy. For Ted Lasso fans who have not yet finished Season 3, this will not be a plot spoiler but it may be a scene spoiler so you might want to stop reading now. For those who are not Ted Lasso fans, this scene is still relevant and telling.
Coach Roy is an English soccer lad and a gruff man of few words. In this particular scene, he tells a story about joining one of his first teams and engaging in banter in the locker rooms. We all do it, right? In locker rooms or at lunch tables, such banter is supposed to be jokey. But though they might be well-intentioned and often funny, sometimes exchanges like these carry an undertone. In other cases, like the situation with Coach Roy, there might not be a sinister undertone, but nevertheless feelings can be hurt. Roy recounts how a senior player’s wife was pregnant and young Roy made a joke about the paternity of this player’s unborn, claiming that he was in fact the father. I am not a man and I have never played group sports such as football, soccer or rugby but from what I understand about locker room banter, this type of comment is not uncommon.
In response to the comment, this player, in Roy’s words, ‘lost it’. He attacked Roy, broke his ribs and nose, and was then sacked from the football team. No other club would hire him because of his temper, and the incident ended his career.
Fast forward a few years and Roy sees this player again. He now recognises that his supposedly innocent joke was the trigger that ended up costing this exceptional player his career and reputation, and he apologises to him.
The player then shared that the reason he had reacted in such an extreme way was because only a few weeks earlier they had lost the baby being referred to in a stillbirth. He and his wife chose not to share this with anyone so when Roy made a joke about his deceased child he was unable to contain his grief or anger.
I took a couple of things from this story.
- Sometimes we might try to compartmentalise our lives and keep what is happening to or around us to ourselves, perhaps to protect our privacy or simply because it is no-one else’s business. And while privacy might be important, emotions can rarely be kept perfectly contained. Like a volcano, eventually they will erupt. All of us have things going on in our lives. Some are temporary and manageable, some may be catastrophic, but it is important to share with someone trusted in your team or organisation to mitigate the risk of the volcano erupting, or at least to ensure someone is there to assist if it does.
- It is not always about you! Sometimes someone’s reaction to you actually has nothing to do with you. At another time, with a different player, Coach Roy’s joke might have been well received. The line that most impacted me was: ‘We really don’t know what is going on with other people’s lives, so don’t make judgement on others when you don’t really know what is going on for them.’
- And, finally, be careful with your words. Some jokes and banter are not funny and can be hurtful, ignorant or just stupid, whether intentionally and unintentionally. For instance, I was born in Australia, I have lived here all my life, yet I am still faced with ‘Chinaman’ jokes and stereotypes. While I laugh them off because, sadly, I am used to them, I do not find them funny and, truthfully, my respect for those ‘jokers’ drops a little each time.
So, as we reach the end of the year, when we are all tired and a little on edge with the end of year craziness, just stop and think for a minute. If you are frustrated about how someone has reacted – or perhaps not reacted – to you, or if you don’t understand why someone has behaved in a particular way, before jumping to a conclusion and making it all about you, try assuming positive intent. Assume that their intention was not to frustrate, annoy or disappoint you. Accept that there might be something else going on for them and show some kindness, or at least openness and a lack of judgement.
The lessons about leadership in Ted Lasso are many, take if from a non-sports-lover, it is worth the watch for the life lessons and leadership gold!