Last year we shared some of our favorite Ted Lasso quotes with you and the relevance they have for those working in advancement. We had a blast putting that post together, and you had a blast reading it—it was our most read blog in 2022. This odd duck of a show about a college football coach from Kansas taking over a top 20 British soccer team has won fans and critics, earning awards on both sides of the Atlantic. Even more importantly for our purposes, Ted Lasso embodies many of the important traits and values that leaders in advancement should strive to adopt.
Since season 3 released on March 15, we thought we’d take a look at a few of Ted’s most powerful leadership traits—so you can boot up Apple TV+ comforted by the knowledge that you’re not just watching one of the best written television comedies of all time, but you are also conducting quality research on how to be an inspiring and effective advancement leader.
1. Faith that authenticity wins
Something that shines through every episode is that Ted genuinely cares about people. This includes everyone around him without exception—from the locals that he bumps into on the street to his overpaid famous players whom he sees rightly as struggling young men that need his guidance. A lot of the humor in the early episodes of the show stems from this authenticity and the difficulty that his team, club staff, the press, and local supporters all have in believing that he is for real. Ted persists because he knows he will win them over in time. He believes that when faced with repeated exposure to his genuine positivity that everyone will eventually come around to his side, even if the price he has to pay to get there is being ridiculed or derided for it along the way.
Like Ted, successful advancement leaders know that demonstrating authenticity is the foundation in building trust with both internal and external partners, as well as their team.
Just kidding. But the trait of forward-thinking empathy is demonstrated by biscuits. On his second day on the job, Ted brings in freshly baked biscuits to the club owner’s office and, in his overwhelmingly positive way, institutes a daily “biscuits with the boss” morning routine with Rebecca, his highly cynical boss. The show doesn’t explain how Ted learns to bake exquisite biscuits before he even set foot in the UK, notable especially because biscuits in his native Kansas are things you eat with chicken or sausages and gravy, not crumbly sweet treats.
This action shows forward-thinking empathy on Ted’s part. He knew he would face an uphill battle to win people over on his first day. Not only did he deeply contemplate how he could do this, but he acted on it, selecting biscuits as something that would bring joy to the people he needed to make connections with and putting in the effort to learn how to make them to a high standard before he left the USA. What’s more, he prioritized this over learning the ins and outs of the sport he knew almost nothing about but was going to coach. He recognized that his edge would never be his deep knowledge of soccer, but his mastery of soft skills. He could rely on Coach Beard for the soccer knowledge.
Similarly, advancement leaders should aim to develop forward-thinking empathy. There are plenty of folks to help them answer technical or knowledge-based questions within the institution, from subject matter experts to team members. It’s up to advancement leaders to employ forward-thinking empathy to help each person feel valued.
3. Complete and quick forgiveness
Multiple times throughout the show, Ted encourages his players to “be a goldfish” to encourage them to learn from their mistakes and move forward rather than dwell on them and remain stuck. Naturally, this is much easier said than done, but Ted proves through his actions that this is not simply a lip service ideal for him—he forgives others quickly and completely. The most powerful example of his forgiveness is in the penultimate episode of season one when (spoiler alert!) Rebecca reveals that Ted was hired to fail and that she had been actively sabotaging him since the day he was hired. After listing all the ways she had undercut him, Ted takes a breath, shakes his head, and immediately says “I forgive you.”
Strong advancement leaders know that forgiveness demonstrates their commitment to their team members and others with whom they work. By valuing individuals over their actions, these leaders can help others become the best version of themselves.
4. Humility backed by inner strength
We all know the virtues of being humble about one’s strengths and accomplishments. However, bullies can be encouraged to take advantage of a humble person’s good nature. Unfortunately for Rupert, the show’s main villain, Ted’s humility is underpinned by a strength and a self-belief that enables him to confidently step up when the situation calls for it. In season 1 episode 8, Rupert is convinced of a sure and easy win in a game of darts and derides Ted’s ability, but Ted quietly aces the game whilst delivering the “be curious not judgmental” speech.
Advancement leaders may find themselves serving institutions where philanthropy is “nice to have,” but not necessary, or they may struggle to get a seat in the institution’s c-suite. Having the inner strength to quietly deliver will hit the “bullseye” in helping to change and strengthen the institution’s culture for philanthropy.
5. Willingness to push through discomfort
In season two, sports psychologist Dr. Sharon Fieldstone is hired to come on board to help break Richmond’s losing streak. Ted distrusts psychologists because he blames couples therapy for ending his marriage, so he is dismayed when Sharon’s presence seems to settle the team in a way he can’t manage himself. Ted eventually decides to participate in one-on-one sessions with Sharon. Despite a rough start, she helps him persevere in breaking through his protective shell of optimism and coming to terms with his past.
Leaders in all fields, but especially in philanthropy, face challenges on many fronts—from the economy, to institutional culture, to a shortage of professionals in the field, to managing multiple internal and external relationships, and more. They may often feel like they are the only one guarding the goal but, by being willing to push through discomfort to build a strong resilient team, the leader will soon be playing offense more often than defense. One of the ways to push through discomfort is to seek advancement-specific leadership training, mentoring, or coaching, just as Ted did.
The traits and values that create successful advancement leaders are always on our mind at Advancement Resources, and we have been working hard to uncover insights and new statistics about leadership in philanthropy, most recently though our Leadership Climate Survey—and we invite your input. We can say with confidence that, based on the information we’ve collected so far, the traits demonstrated by Ted form a solid values-based foundation that matches the needs of advancement team members.
Ultimately, Ted cares more about his team and the people around him than about winning itself. That’s his real superpower. A strong sense of caring can also be a superpower for advancement leaders. By caring about the professional and personal lives of team members and partners, advancement leaders can build a strong and resilient team that will help philanthropy flourish at their institution no matter the outside forces. As Ted puts it, “If you care about someone and you have love in your heart…there ain’t nothing you can’t get through together.”
We can’t bring you biscuits every morning like Ted, but we can bring a Lasso-like slice of inspiration to your inbox every Monday. If you’re interested, sign up for our free Monday Motivation newsletter.