While making breakfast this morning for my kids, I looked out my kitchen window to see the other lights turning on in my neighbors’ windows. Instead of giving my kids their morning dose of Encanto songs they always ask for, I decided to blast one of my all-time favorites: Smokey Robinson’s “Tracks of My Tears“. But when I went to put it on, I played “Tears of a Clown” by mistake. I always get those two songs mixed up. I love them both, but they are essentially the same song.
Both are about hiding one’s sadness behind a happy face, like the clown in Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci who makes people laugh while disguising his own sadness. So while standing in front of the kitchen window in clear view of my neighbors, making breakfast and dancing like one of Smokey’s Miracles to “Tears of a Clown”, I was thinking about empathy, vulnerability, and authenticity.
We are better colleagues when we are empathic. By empathetic, I mean trying to really listen to people and see behind the costume they are wearing and know they may be struggling.
We are better colleagues and leaders when we are able to show some of our own vulnerabilities. It builds connections. It shows our humanity. It allows for an open environment. It shows that we need each other. And finally, it allows us to bring more of our authentic self to the office.
A touch of vulnerability is at the heart of all charisma. Think of all of your favorite characters in movies or literature. There is always that touch of vulnerability that makes them feel authentic and real. It makes you root for them and want them to succeed. And ultimately, we cannot succeed in organizations or as organizations if we do not root for those around us and want them to succeed.
So letting myself look like a fool at the window as I tried to dance like I was in Motown, was a strong show of my own early morning vulnerability. I wish someone had told my younger self not to be so afraid of looking ridiculous. I would have danced, danced and danced.
There’s a moment in the 2016 Champions League Finals between Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid that sums up positive leadership. If you recall, the match ends in penalty kicks. While Atletico’s coach, Diego Simeone, is pacing back and forth, pulling at his hair, Cristiano Ronaldo approaches Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane and whispers in his ear that he wants to take the fifth penalty kick. Zidane puts his arm around Cristiano and gives him a big smile. Atletico misses two penalty shots. Madrid scores all five, with Cristiano’s as the winning goal.
Ever since that moment, I have wanted to write about Zidane and leadership.
As I have written before, a leader’s job “is to create the environment where each team member can thrive and have the biggest impact.”
Even beyond having the advantage of the authority and charisma from being one of the sport’s greatest legends, Zidane created that environment by:
Not micromanaging his players on the field
Celebrating his players and not himself
Showing poise and positivity in the face of adversity
Not being afraid of failure, knowing that win or lose, he was still going to be who he always way
Showing how much he enjoyed working with his team and seeing them succeed (something he repeated in interview after interview).
On that last point, imagine how much better you would perform if you knew that your boss loved seeing you happy and succeeding at your job?
This joy and complicity are captured in all of the photos that his team members posted on Instagram this week when Zidane announced he would not coach next year.
A lesson to all of us who strive to be better leaders.
This blog is about lawyers being better business partners after all, so I should add that a key to our success is letting our clients feel that we experience the same joy, satisfaction, and complicity you see in those images when they succeed.
Did I tell you that I love Ted Lasso? Yes, I keep pushing the show on anyone who will listen. No, I don’t get a referral fee. I just love it. If you haven’t seen it yet, please cancel the rest of your day’s meetings. It’s more important.
Here’s why, but first a little background:
I’ve always loved everything that has to do with motivating people to be better and happier whether at work, at play or in their personal lives. During these difficult times when there has been a scandalous vacuum of leadership across the entire professional and political spectrum, I have tried to do my part to keep myself and those around me positive and sane. In the process, I’ve been reflecting a lot lately on the great coaches, bosses and mentors I have had over the years. But just as I was putting together a series of posts based on what I’ve learned along the way, here comes Ted with his folksy accent, talking like my Texan brother-in-law, to steal my thunder.
Ted Lasso is the story of an American university football coach from Kansas who has been hired to train a mid-tier English premiership team on the verge of relegation. As you can imagine, Ted knows nothing about soccer and arrives in a new country where everyone expects him to fail. The entire show is about how to enter a new organization and implement change as an outsider. It is a leadership comedy and is better than anything I could have ever written here.
What I wanted to write about was:
the importance of building self-confidence that I learned from coaches like Sandy Maida Geopfert, Aat Muys and the duo of Dave Scaggs and Sam Debone (who could have been stand-ins for Ted and Coach Beard). But Ted Lasso does that.
identifying when someone is hurtingand needs comforting which I learned from my mother and how to put things into perspective which I learned from my father. But Ted Lasso does that.
how a Leader’s job is to create the environment where each team member can thrive and have the biggest impact. The best performer isn’t necessary the best leader, and the best way to enhance performance is to strengthen one’s strengths not weaknesses. These things I learned from hours of conversations with my friend, former co-worker and expert in organizational behavior Bill Collins. But Ted Lasso covers all that.
How creating an atmosphere of positivity and recognition creates a culture of positivity and recognition which I learned watching how my former boss, the amazing Angel Cabrera, uses every opportunity at his disposal to celebrate the excellence of those around him not himself. But Ted Lasso does that.
How important it is, especially during times like these with Covid fatigue and despair, to create a culture of positivity and to focus on relationships. I have been turning to the articles and Linkedin feed of Beth Cabrera, a friend and workplace psychology guru, for guidance on these. But Ted Lasso covers all that.
F-ing Ted Lasso. All this is in that wanker’s TV show and more. Plus, the acting is phenomenal.
In fact, you could teach an entire course on Leadership with each session covering what is to be learned from each episode of the show. At the end of the course, each student should know:
Leadership is a transversal, portable skill. It isn’t about being a subject matter expert. It is about the atmosphere you create. Ted knows nothing about soccer, but he does know about coaching. His job isn’t to improve the team’s soccer skills – they have those – but to make sure they are able to perform at their highest level, to be “the best they can be on and off the field”.
Be positive and calm. As leaders set the atmosphere and tone for how those around them to perform, leaders must remain positive and calm in the face of adversity. Some of my favorite scenes are when Ted consciously struggles to stay positive.
Everyone matters.Engage with everyone. Each person in an organization should be treated with equal value regardless of rank. We don’t have all the insights we need. Often times a person at the bottom of the pyramid is the best placed to fill those gaps.
Manage Up. A Leader needs to build buy-in 360 degrees. You need your team to get with the program, but you also need to win over your boss. It’s not about making the boss happy, it is about making the boss buy into your vision.
Trust: you need to build trust across the organization and in your community. This takes work, and it often means showing respect even if the result is a horrible stomachache. It also means keeping your word and building relationships with all stakeholders big or small.
Forgiveness: Often times to build and maintain trust you have to forgive people when they have treated you unfair or unkindly. It comes with the job.
Identifying leaders within. You need to identify the other leaders and influencers within your organization. The Leader’s job isn’t to do all of the leading. Help others step up. Remember the best player or top performer may not be your choice.
Quick wins: When you start out, you need to show that you listen even to your team’s smallest and most mundane issues. If you can solve one or two of those – like improving shower pressure – you can show that you listen.
Resilience and relationships. One thing I love about the show is how it depicts everyone’s need for someone to help them through tough times and the importance of finding and being that person who helps others. Handing out little toy soldiers is a message that says, “hey it’s okay to be vulnerable, we all need a little help.”
Feedback. Feedback should focus on reinforcing good performance, but when it is time to lay down the law, it should not be to micromanage but to address the big picture and reinforce the team’s mission. Episode 6 where Ted lectures Jamie about not practicing is probably my favorite scene and example of this.
You gotta know when to hold them (as in the “Gambler”). You don’t need to intervene in every dispute or problem your team members suffer. Sometimes it’s best to let them resolve their own issues. You need to know when to stand back and when to intervene.
Bring people together by allowing them to share something about who they are, but also be prepared to share about yourself.
Be Curious, not judgmental. Don’t underestimate yourself or those around you. Be curious, ask questions. Get to know people.
Leadership and change are really hard. Being an effective leader doesn’t mean you’ll win. It is a long road to victory, whatever victory means.
So what are you waiting for? It is happy show in the current sea of gloom that surrounds us. More importantly, though, ask yourself what you are doing to create a positive atmosphere for those around you. It’s hard work, but if you aren’t even trying, then you’re not doing your job. These desperate times demand us all to do better.
UPDATE 5 March 2021:
This morning while walking my kids to school (humming the song “Ease on Down the Road“, in case you know it), saying good morning to everyone like I always do, in my head I was thinking about Social Perception and Ted Lasso. Social perception is about the difference between how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. In the show, at first everyone thinks of Ted as some redneck American clown. It takes time and his perseverance before people start seeing what he is trying to accomplish. I love in the episode when Ted lectures Jamie, you can see Roy in the background finally processing that Ted isn’t an idiot. Personally, I have always used calmness and humor as a way to make everyone around me comfortable, and I have always had to prove to my bosses that looking relaxed, talking to everyone or using humor doesn’t mean I am not working hard. What I am doing is very intentional and in fact effective.
One of the great scenes in the show is when Ted is playing darts and explains how all his life people have underestimated him because they preferred their social perception over being curious.
While thinking of all this, holding my kids’ hands, a parent stopped me and said, “Hey, my husband and I are watching Ted Lasso. We love it !” So there you go. One person at a time.