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Leadership Team Development & Ted Lasso’s Radical Candor
Working on leadership team development? If so, Ted Lasso, the enormously popular Apple TV show offers some feel-good entertainment along with solid team development tips. Lasso, (played by Jason Sudeikis) is an American football coach who moves to England to bring humanity to a team of professional athletes.
The show begins as Ted and his sidekick, Coach Beard, arrive in London to help a dysfunctional team unite. They bring a brand of hilarity as their efforts unfold to help the team function at its best.
As we watch the first season, we can’t help but be reminded of the many leadership lessons that seem to spring from Kim Scott’s popular leadership playbook, Radical Candor. A former Silicon Valley executive who worked at both Google and Facebook, Scott wrote the book that she says will teach us, “How to be a Kick-Ass Boss without Losing Your Humanity.”
What is Radical Candor?
Scott’s Radical Candor book lays out a strong thesis. To lead effectively, you need to do two things. First, you must care for people personally. Second, you must give direct feedback. Scott argues that, if people don’t believe you have a sincere interest in their welfare, they won’t respond to your input. So leaders must care for their people and provide candid appraisals of their performance.
According to Scott, leaders who avoid the uncomfortable task of giving candid feedback won’t succeed. That’s because you won’t get good results if you aren’t willing to confront substandard performance.
Radical Leadership Team Development
Kim Scott’s leadership and Ted Lasso’s team development styles appear strikingly similar. In fact, a few of Ted Lasso’s plot themes seem to spring from the pages of Radical Candor. Here are some of the leadership team development lessons we’ve gleaned from watching the show, which earned a record-breaking 20 Emmy nominations after its first season.
First, Show You Care
Here’s how the pages of Radical Candor come to life on TV. As soon as Ted and Coach Beard arrive, they show they care about the players. They ask the team to share their gripes and concerns. One player raises the issue of inadequate water pressure in the showers. In the next scene, the showers burst with invigorating force. It’s a small win, but it makes an impression. Soon the team understands that the new coaches are genuinely listening.
Similarly, Lasso befriends Nathan, the often-abused equipment manager. Lasso and Beard treat Nathan with respect, calling him by name – something no one else bothers to do. So in these two examples, Ted follows Scott’s rule No. 1: Show you care.
Second, Give Direct Feedback
To exemplify the power of direct feedback, Scott points to the awkward situation of telling someone he has spinach in his teeth. You’d never withhold that information from a loved one. But if you don’t care about the person, you might stay quiet. Who cares if her smile reveals that trapped blackish-green slime?
It’s uncomfortable to give negative feedback. But Scott emphasizes that the receiver wants to know. As an example, we would hope that someone – especially someone who cares about us – will speak up so we don’t embarrass ourselves. We want to be told if our fly is open, we have spinach in our teeth, our outfit looks bad – or even that we’re doing a bad job.
And such examples are cited in both the Radical Candor book and in the Ted Lasso TV show. In a matter-of-fact way before a big game, Coach Beard tells Ted his fly is open. And in another scene, Ted goes way out on a limb with the shy Nathan: “Would you want me to tell you if you had spinach in your teeth?” Ted asks. Seeing that Nathan can brace himself to hear harsh feedback, Ted proceeds to tell the socially awkward man that his suit looks awful.
Ted’s harsh criticism of Nathan’s appearance might be a real confidence killer if it were to come from someone else. However, Nathan knows Ted cares about him personally, so he accepts Teds’ feedback. In the next scene, we see Nathan beaming with confidence as he shows off his new, slim-fitting, and oh-so-stylish suit. This transformation wouldn’t have happened if Ted stayed quiet.
In another scene, Nathan gives a “radical candor” pre-game speech in the locker room, telling each player about his individual performance flaws and what he should do differently so that the team succeeds. Lasso allows Nathan to speak, predicting the players will respond well to the feedback. And perhaps that’s because Lasso knows the players will accept the sharp criticism since Nathan appears to care deeply for the team.
Yips and Ums – External Resources to the Rescue
Good leaders identify performance issues and act accordingly. But not every issue can be solved with internal resources. Sometimes leadership development calls for tapping into the specialized expertise of outsiders. Both Ted Lasso and Radical Candor offer examples.
In the second season of Ted Lasso, player Danny develops a case of the “yips.” The owner of the club brings in a sports psychologist to help Danny. While Ted is skeptical at first, this outside professional makes an impact on the team. Ted accepts the help and eventually… well we won’t spoil the rest.
Kim Scott presents a similar example in her book. While working at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, Scott’s boss, told Scott that her habitual pattern of saying “um” detracts from her overall performance in meetings. In fact, Sandberg told her, the “ums” made her sound dumb.
So Sandberg, with a sincere desire to help Scott succeed, proposed a solution. She hired a speaking coach to help Scott break the habit. Scott was grateful for the help and pleased with the results. Sandberg succeeded in developing her star talent by taking the risk of giving unpleasant feedback.
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