If you indulge in the odd TV show binge, you might have heard about the Apple TV + feel-good comedy, Ted Lasso. For those of you who haven't, the show is about an American college football coach who is brought over the U.K. to coach a struggling Premier League soccer or "football" club where everyone is rooting against him, even his own owner at first. Coach Lasso's character being the internal optimists fights through it in a way that has won over the hearts and minds of many of us who love each episode and the best-friend/teammate-like approach he takes to coaching his team and building relationships. We all love him, yet as a founder and someone who spends a lot of time with other founder/startup/VC types both IRL as well as via social media, I often get left feeling, where have all the real-world Ted Lasso's gone?
Those of you that read my posts regularly know that I got my start as a professional coaching NCAA ice hockey. Given my background and affinity for sports, watching Ted Lasso makes me think of a few of my favorite people from my sports day, both of whom are very much a large part of my life today.
I'm not gonna use names since frankly, these two wouldn't want their names in this article but they are two people who anyone would want on their team. First is a goalie from my coaching days who played a grand total of about 30 minutes of game time over his 4 year NCAA career. Yet despite the lack of game-time, might have been the glue for the entire team.
This individual was the first person to hype a teammate for a nice pass or a blocked shot, first to get everyone fired up in the locker room after a rough period, first person that the rest of the team wanted to hang-out/spend time with away from the arena. The term we use in sports for individuals like this are "chemistry" teammates. They might not, and quite often are not a star, and they often don't start and might not even play that much but their impact on the team and those around them is undeniable. The "chemistry" guy that I am referring to in this instance, always lifted the mood of the entire team, a value that will never show up on the scoresheet or in statistics but in a team setting and over the long haul of a season (or building a company), a far more valuable contribution.
Ted Lasso's focus throughout the show is always centered around lifting the mood of everyone around him. Why? This quote from his character in the show tells us why:
"I think that you might be so sure that you're one in a million, that sometimes you forget that out there you're just one in 11." - Tedd Lasso
You're just one in 11. For those of you who are not big soccer heads, the reference is to the fact that a soccer team has 11 players on the field at a time. Instead of favoring his super-star players or making things about himself as the "coach" or leader, Ted Lasso reminds us that it is more important to think of our impact of those around us, our "team" then focus on your individual "one in a million" story.
This isn't to say that you aren't one in a million. Quite often it is our personal stories and person triumphs that make who we are and there is nothing wrong with that, but just because they are "personal" doesn't mean that others didn't help you get there. The "chemistry" guy I have been referring too had plenty of personal adversity to get to even be on a NCAA roster, yet he still made everything about the team. Being that 1 in 11, being part of a team (be it sports, a startup, or a VC fund) is a tremendous opportunity and having the super-power to lift the mood and the energy of all 11, not just yourself, is one of the most underrated skillsets in both being a leader and a teammate.
The Power Of Authenticity
More recently, I have had the pleasure of meeting another individuals who humbleness and just authenticity has left a permanent mark on me. I recently had the pleasure of meeting a NHLer who, well if you met him you just can't help but like who he is as a person, very Ted Lasso-like.
Again, we will keep names out of this article but this individual had a 12+ year NHL career winning two Stanley Cups and playing alongside some of the greatest hockey players in the history of the sport. Yet, when you meet him you'd never know it. In fact, he was late to our first zoom call and when he joined, he was drenched in sweat, wearing a beat-up t-shirt and shorts and immediately apologized as he had just come from helping his father building a chicken coup and had lost track of time. He was so unapologetically just himself that I couldn't help but respect it. He could have been late and cleaned himself up, he could have cancelled all together and rescheduled for another time to keep up appearances but he just came on as himself.
VC and Startup world, similar to sports, tends to celebrate "all-stars", big names, big raises, big funds, but valuations but that isn't you. Sure everyone "knows" Wayne Gretzky because of of his on-ice accomplishments and sure, given the opportunity who wouldn't want to hang out with or get to know Gretzky. But this gentleman I mentioned above, he is the person that people want to be around and hang-out with, he spent his whole career on the 4th-line (for those not big into hockey, a team fields 4 lines of 3 forwards each game with your 1st line often being your best players and so on, so you get the point, the 4th line is often an after-thought). He spent his career on the 4th line and yet he is often the first call of many of his peers when they look for advice or simply want to just spend time with a "friend".
Again, the value of that genuine authenticity and the chemistry that is creates within in a team cannot be understated. Reminds me of another Ted Lasso quote:
"I've never been embarrassed about having streaks in my drawers. You know, it's all part of growing up." - Ted Lasso
In a world (startups/VC and sports alike) were posturing and "flexing" is all too common, simply being yourself regardless of how it makes you look is a refreshing change of pace. Remember, that funding announcement in Forbes or TechCrunch? More often than not they are paid for (sorry to any journalists who happen to be in here). There is no shame in struggle and there is no shame in things not being perfect, none of us are. Both Ted Lasso and this NHLer were both just...themselves. They aren't perfect, they aren't a super-star, and we all still love them for it.
Season 2 of Ted Lasso ended this past week, if you haven't watched it yet I definitely think it is worth a try. It is an easy-going, feel good, and often times funny show that really reminds us not to take ourselves too seriously and try and have a positive impact on those around you.