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By Jeff W. Dick March 13, 2023, 2:09 p.m. EDT

What bank executives can learn from Ted Lasso

Strong leadership is critically important to a bank’s success, but it can’t solve every problem. That’s because people are complicated and they have baggage, which they often bring to the job. As a banking executive, you probably devote yourself to studying management, addressing your own shortcomings and modeling excellence. You coach and train and promote and advance people who exhibit ability and potential. You try to do everything right — and still, not everyone gets on board. When you’re a leader, having some detractors goes with the territory.

Having dealt with the complexities of managing many personalities in a growing banking company for nearly 20 years, I’m always looking for fresh ideas. And right now, I’m eager to see how Ted Lasso deals with his latest leadership challenges.

Yes, Ted Lasso. I’m going to out myself right now as a Ted-head, a devotee of the TV series that is returning for its third season on March 15. It’s got comedy, drama and sports in the form of English Premier League football, aka soccer — what’s not to love?

Something else Ted Lasso has in abundance is lessons in leading in the face of challenges. The show offers insights into how imperfect people can help or hinder one another’s growth, and it does so in a way that is endlessly quotable and thought-provoking. At MainStreet Bank, we’ve found it so inspiring that we’ve riffed on Ted’s spirit to come up with a slogan — “Every day is game day” — to support our training efforts. And we’ve built out a leadership curriculum, Game Day Leadership, pegged to qualities that the show celebrates, such as collaborating, respecting differences, being decisive and managing change.

In case you’ve missed it, here’s the plot of the series, in short: Ted, an incurable optimist, has been recruited to England from the U.S. to transform a ragtag assemblage of strong individual players into a winning team. He’s an American who has never coached soccer, and the team reacts with a collective sneer to his earnest personality and his credentials as a low-tier college football coach. And it turns out he’s been set up to fail by a vindictive new club owner who takes revenge on her faithless ex-husband by hiring a head coach who’s clueless about soccer. (It wouldn’t be much of a story without a spicy subplot.)

Ted, however, doesn’t know the meaning of the word “quit,” and his sunny optimism, unflappable personality and relentless Dad humor gradually win everyone over and take the team to new heights. The show’s byword is “Believe,” and it manages to be uplifting without being preachy, as Ted’s folksy charm starts to work its magic.

But as the third season begins, Ted is facing some real tests of his management style. The pivotal developments involve the team’s former equipment manager, who was promoted by Ted to assistant coach to reward his efforts to help the team win. Ted moved him from the equivalent of the teller ranks to loan officer, because when he sees commitment, he rewards and builds upon it. However, Ted’s protégé has personal issues that cause him to slowly become embittered. He betrays Ted by leaking a news story about the panic attacks Ted has been trying to hide. Then he jumps to a head coach job with a rival team.

The betrayal is a jarring development, because Ted’s decisions have unwittingly brought out the worst in his protégé. But it’s fascinating, too, because the successes Ted has cultivated for his team are interspliced with messy complications, which is a lot like managing people in real life. The ability to navigate complexity and accept that you won’t get everything right every single time is where the real leadership challenges begin.

Ted Lasso has already delivered almost too many leadership lessons to count, but the new season should underscore several of them.

Leaders aren’t perfect, and they don’t have to be. Ted’s panic attacks converted him from a bit of a caricature into a complex human in his own right. How he harnesses his own strengths and weaknesses is likely to add new depth to his character.

Assigning blame is a waste of time. When things go wrong, leaders extract what they need to learn and they move on. Ted redirects his team when they’re beating themselves up or blaming one another.

Winning isn’t everything. As Ted says

For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.

– Ted Lasso

Change is hard, but it’s worth the effort. Ted has picked up and moved halfway around the world to try something new. “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse. If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”

Believing in their potential is key to leading employees to success. Ted gets some audible groans when he says things like, “You say impossible, but all I hear is ‘I’m possible.'” But his faith in his team builds their confidence in themselves and one another.

Ultimately, the leadership lesson of Ted Lasso is that you can’t win ’em all — but can’t win at all if you don’t lead with an open mind and an open heart. And for a time-strapped bank CEO, that’s a pretty good lesson to take away from a 30-minute investment in watching an episode of a sitcom.

Jeff W. Dick
Chairman And CEO, MainStreet Bank

Posted with permission from American Banker® www.americanbanker.com. MainStreet Bank. All rights reserved.©2023

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