In a business that celebrates ego, Ted (Lasso) reigns his in.
His coaching style is subtle.
It never hits you over the head,
It slowly grows until you can no longer ignore its presence…
If the Lasso way is wrong, it’s hard to imagine being right

Trent Crimm, The Independent

Subtle leadership is not about being the loudest in the room or making the most dramatic decisions. Instead, it’s often characterized by these traits:

  • Empathy: Understanding and genuinely caring about the individual needs and feelings of team members
  • Active Listening: Focusing fully on the speaker, understanding their message, and responding thoughtfully
  • Humility: Operating without ego, sharing credit, and putting the needs of the team and organization first
  • Influence Over Authority: Motivating and guiding others through inspiration and encouragement rather than strict orders or control
  • Patience: Giving processes and people the time they need to develop, grow, and achieve their potential

In our recent Lens of Leadership: Ted Lasso Rewatch Podcast, we focused on subtle leadership and these six strategies that Ted used.

6 Strategies for Subtle Leadership

  1. Storytelling over telling
  2. Help followers become leaders
  3. Empower others
  4. Respect
  5. Make connections
  6. Take ego out of it

1.  Storytelling over telling

Ted Lasso and Coach Beard are sneaky – and smart! They understood that storytelling helps individuals paint a picture for themselves thereby activating their own motivations (as opposed to a solid head-butt – thanks Roy).

Ted has no shortage of stories himself, but in this episode, he also demonstrated the power of books in communicating what someone might need to hear. Just look at A Wrinkle in Time which he presented to Roy Kent.

As Trent Crimm said about the book, “It is a lovely story about a young girl’s struggle with the burden of leadership as she journeys through space.”

Roy asked Ted, “Am I supposed to be the little girl?!” Ted responded that he hoped so.

Roy stormed off. As he read the book, he internalized how the message was meant for him and acted on it. That is the power of storytelling – subtle. Powerful.

Reflection question: If you think about one of the most pressing issues facing you at work or home today, do you have a personal story or can you think of a book that would help tell that story and guide others to a solution?

2.  Help followers become leaders

If a business owner or manager decides that all decisions and actions must be made by them, their leadership style isn’t a leadership style at all. It is micromanagement. And it is ineffective.

A more subtle approach would be to learn to trust others, identify their strengths, and help to grow their personal leadership traits.

Ted saw this in Roy Kent. he even told Coach Beard – “For us to make a difference here, the first domino that needs to fall is right there in that man’s heart.”

How did he accomplish this?

^^^^ See storytelling above 🙂 And by modeling in his own behavior how to be that leader.

Reflection question: How do you support your team’s growth and development? Can you name a time where you’ve helped others achieve their goals?

3.  Empower others

One of Ted’s strengths is his willingness to listen to others. He doesn’t believe he has all of the answers.

He freely welcomes a suggestion for a play from the team’s kitman, Nate. And he decides to give it a try.

This empowers Nate without abdicating Ted’s position or authority. He was still accountable for the team, but he empowers others to participate.

This is a strong theme of great leaders. It is critical because it has a multiplier effect. Ted has expanded creativity and problem solving by accepting help from others. When others see and feel this, they are empowered to do more.

Reflection question: How often do you actively listen to others’ perspectives before responding or making decisions?

4.  Respect

In every episode of the series, you see evidence of respect. From remembering everyone’s names to having lunch with Higgins to each ridiculously spicy food out of respect.

Respect within subtle leadership extends beyond mere interpersonal interactions.

Some characters of leading with respect are:

  • Empathy and Understanding: This involves actively listening to others, putting yourself in their shoes, and addressing their concerns and feelings. A leader who respects others shows empathy towards team members’ personal and professional challenges and strives to understand their perspectives.
  • Valuing Contributions and Giving Credit: Respectful leaders acknowledge and appreciate the efforts and contributions of each team member. They give credit where it’s due and celebrate the successes of their team, highlighting the importance of every individual’s work.
  • Consistency and Fairness: Treating all team members fairly and maintaining consistent standards is a crucial aspect of respect. This means applying the same rules and expectations to everyone, regardless of their role or relationship with the leader.

Reflection question: Do I make decisions that honor the dignity and contribution of others?

5.  Make Connections

You might be asking yourself what connections have to do with subtle leadership? When you make connections within your team or your network, you increase the power of the team. A “many hands make light work” scenario.

Ted connected with Keeley to better understand his star player, Jamie Tartt. And then Ted used his connections when he counted on Rebecca to help pull the photo of him and Keeley from being published in The Sun.

Ted connected Ollie (his driver and waiter at the restaurant) to Trent Crimm: congratulations, you’ve both met a really cool person.

There is a popular saying that your network is your net worth. This is not a “hit you over the head with a hammer” move. This subtle and the power of that network grows exponentially over time.

Reflection question: Is there someone in your circle that might have a different perspective? Is there a new yet authentic way to bring them into the conversation?

6.  Take your Ego out of it

Keeping one’s ego out of leadership is essential for fostering a positive, inclusive, and effective working environment. An inflated ego can:

  • Cloud judgment
  • Hinder collaboration
  • Create a toxic environment
  • Stifle ideas
  • Undervalue and undermine team members

By setting aside ego, leaders can prioritize team (and ultimately the team’s success) over personal recognition. What does that look like for employees who work for those leaders?

  • More receptive to feedback
  • Freedom to admit mistakes (and grow from them)
  • Focus on collective goals while still hitting personal ones
  • Mutual respect, trust and empowerment

Now Ted would be the first to say that “It’s not about the wins and losses” and it isn’t. But, as we quickly see in the show, helping others become the best version of themselves enhances the entire team … and, yeah, that gets wins and losses.

Reflection question: Do I share credit with my team and highlight their contributions instead of seeking recognition for myself? Am I able to admit my mistakes and learn from them? How do I react to criticism?

If some of these ideas hit home, here are some reads that might interest you to learn more about strategies and skills around subtle leadership. As we like to say… Leadership is life!

  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain
  • Leaders Eat Last: Why some Team Pull Together and Others Don’t by Simon Sinek
  • Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts by Brene Brown