How Ted Lasso Underscores the Importance of Clear Goals and Positive Feedback
Apple TV’s wildly successful comedy, Ted Lasso, has returned for a third season. The show’s well-meaning, if bumbling, American coach of fictional English football team AFC Richmond is known for his motivational speeches. Take this example from the first season:
Y’all played a heck of a game out there. We may not have won, but y’all definitely succeeded … I want you to be grateful that you’re going through this sad moment with all these other folks. Because I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad, and that is being alone and being sad. Ain’t nobody in this room alone.
Lasso is a good manager—and an inspirational one—who always puts his team’s needs first. He can be too optimistic and ambitious at times, but he’s generally very supportive of those around him.
An inspirational leader motivates others, develops talent, and offers opportunities for growth. They are passionate and willing to take risks if it means unlocking their team’s untapped potential. The intent is not to put people under too much stress or pressure, but to push them out of their comfort zone.
However, inspiring others is not an easy task. You must first earn their trust and respect, make them feel appreciated, and promote a sense of togetherness.
This means giving your team a strong shared purpose so they can support each other, learn from one another, and resolve conflicts quickly. For Lasso, these qualities come naturally—which is a big part of why his players get along so well.
Of course, being a decent manager—and possibly a nice guy like Ted—shouldn’t stop you from getting things done. Managers are more effective when they stay focused, keep their eyes on the big picture, and overcome obstacles as they arise—ultimately achieving success for themselves and those around them. Since performance is very important, especially during challenging times, good managers must take charge, be confident, and remain ambitious.
This creates an interesting paradox. We live in a rapidly changing world where businesses are cutting costs, dealing with stiff competition, and adapting to new technologies. At the same time, people are taking extra jobs, working longer, and grappling with growing uncertainty about the future.
In this context, even good managers like Lasso must sometimes choose between pursuing bottom-line results and protecting team wellbeing. Two important questions arise: Is high performance synonymous with working too much, too hard, and under too much pressure? And can we really deliver ambitious targets without putting people’s wellbeing at risk?
Overcoming managerial challenges
Today, there are growing concerns about increased work intensity—a measure of how much physical or mental effort a person puts into their job.
Many people are facing consistently longer hours and tighter deadlines, with no time to get enough sleep or socialize with friends and family. For some, this is happening while staying at the same pay grade for years, even with an increased workload and few or no opportunities to learn new skills.
Research has linked high work intensity to dissatisfaction and mental health issues such as stress and anxiety. So, as a manager, do you keep asking your team to reach for better results, even if they are overworked and worried about their jobs?
What’s more, due to high work intensity, team members may put a lot of pressure on each other to work harder than they normally would. They will monitor each other’s work, hold themselves accountable to a high standard, and scrutinize each other’s actions or behaviors to see who is and isn’t putting in their best. The atmosphere can become more toxic and unfriendly, leading to anger, despair, and frustration.
Lasso faced similar challenges when he was first hired for the job, despite having little coaching experience and his boss doubting his ability to motivate a struggling soccer team. He prevailed by striking a good balance between high performance and team members’ wellbeing.
Lasso communicates openly with his team, soliciting their input in decision-making and encouraging them to stay disciplined. At the same time, team members who perform poorly (like Sam Obisanya) are given extra support, while those who perform well (like Jamie Tart) are inspired to do even better.
Throughout the show, Lasso’s character teaches us an important lesson: Being an effective manager is more than just delegating tasks and pushing people beyond their performance limits. It’s about setting clear goals, leading by example, supporting your team, and empowering them to deliver results.
Effective management is also about giving positive feedback, praising team members for a job well done, and making them feel valued. If done right, team members will be happier, more satisfied, and motivated to do a better job. They will work hard and avoid doing anything that could damage the team’s overall success.
The team will also have a stronger sense of belonging, which is important for bringing out the best in everyone—something AFC Richmond know well under Lasso’s positive management.
Chidiebere Ogbonnaya is a professor of human resource management at the University of Kent.
Disclosure: He receives funding from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) as part of his research commitments at Kent Business School.
Lead image: Courtesy of Apple TV
Reprinted with permission from The Conversation.