Ted Lasso's leadership lessons: A guide for patrol supervisors
What are some of Ted Lasso’s traits that could benefit patrol supervisors and help them realize the full potential of their shifts?
The position of a patrol supervisor is fraught with peril. Typically the rank of sergeant, your patrol officers look to you to have all the answers on the street, while your administration looks to you to explain why your troops did what they were or were not supposed to, regardless of whether you were on scene at the time or not. Morale tends to hinge on you as well, especially if there are differences between floors in your station.
How can you as a supervisor motivate those you supervise to be comfortable both on their own and work well as a team, become and stay knowledgeable about the job, and deal with adversity in a healthy way, regardless of where it comes from?
Enter Ted Lasso. For those unaware, “Ted Lasso” is an Apple TV+ show about an American college football coach hired to manage an English Premier League soccer team, even though he knows absolutely nothing about soccer. Naturally, his position is scrutinized by any and all who care to have an opinion, from the public to his subordinates, fellow coaches and bosses alike. Everyone seems to not believe in him and writes him off immediately as a failure.
The show, having just finished its third and final season, demonstrates that while Ted may not know exactly what he’s talking about, he ensures he learns what he needs to be as effective as possible. He also has some key characteristics and great ideas that bring the team together.
Depending on your agency, you may have been able to bounce around to different specialties and assignments. Or, you may have been in patrol handling all of the calls that come with that. Then you got promoted. Congratulations. Now, you have to lead everybody, regardless of whether or not you know every little facet of every little job and ability everyone brings to the table. What are some of Ted Lasso’s traits that could benefit patrol supervisors and help them realize the full potential of their shifts?
You might think this is a requirement for police work in general, and it is. Ted Lasso takes it a step further by having the courage to challenge himself, and in doing so to offer challenges to those he leads, bringing them out of their comfort zone.
Stepping into a leadership role puts a lot of eyes on you by putting you in charge of situations you may not be an expert in. As leaders, we need to be generalists, able to take the information given to us by subordinate specialists and then extrapolate on that to make decisions. Then we see how these decisions go, and if we need to pivot and tweak, we pivot and tweak, but all these elements require courage to get the ball rolling.
If Ted never listened to his other coaches under his command who knew the ins and outs of soccer, then not only would he not be able to bring the team to victory, but he would be actively working against himself and his peers when it comes to seeking out that success. We do not know everything. Full stop. We need to be able to slow down, rely on those we trust, and make decisions based on what our subject matter experts (our patrol officers) tell us.
Ted shows an incredible amount of courage by stepping into a job he knows little to nothing about. Instead of pretending he knows it all, he grounds himself and settles into the reality that he is in charge of people who know more than him.
No matter who you are or where you work, chances are you’re going to lead somebody who knows more about a specific niche of the job than you, and you are going to need to be prepared to come off your horse to ask them about it in order to be a successful leader. Not only can this lead to success, but it can also help build the team.
Admitting you aren’t perfect and relying on your subordinates displays confidence to step back and gather as much information as possible, regardless of where it comes from. It also places value on your team members and reinforces the belief that you all can work together to end up with the best solution.
In addition, recognizing your part in a tactical or strategic failure is also important. Making yourself vulnerable and open to criticism via after-action reports and discussions where you focus on how you can better lead your team next time shows your team you are willing to learn alongside them, even as you lead from in front of them.
We are all aware that empathy can be a great tool to get information out of a victim or a suspect on the street. But now we’re in charge of other officers, and our focus tends to pivot on them.
Is an officer consistently late all of a sudden? Are their reports lacking in detail lately? We know that this job can take a lot out of us outside of the uniform. There are a bunch of reasons why if you ask around, a lot of your co-workers (or even you yourself!) may have strained relationships with spouses (or ex-spouses) and/or their children. Instead of simply focusing on the poor work being suddenly exhibited, or the extra bags under the eyes of a subordinate showing up 20 minutes late (again) after having years of being on time, take a step back and ask questions. Is everything okay at home? Have you had any hard calls lately?
Questions like that not only preclude you from coming off as adversarial, but they may set you up for breaking through to your officer and getting them to open up about what may be an underlying cause for recent poor showings at work. Heck, it might even be an opening that allows you to offer resources to help alleviate stress or put them in contact with a peer support group that can mitigate the effects of the stress at work.
In the show, Ted is only hired by the team’s owner, Rebecca Welton, because she wants to see the club fail, as it was her ex-husband’s pride and joy. After seeing who Ted is as a person, she comes clean. Instead of judging the decision she had made initially in a vacuum, Ted steps back and takes into account the reasons for her initial choice, simply stating “Well, divorce is hard.” Some behavior can appear to be done with malice when in reality it can be caused by myriad factors. As supervisors, it is our job to ask those questions and find the real reasons before taking adverse action.
4. Put your people first
Ted Lasso states multiple times in the show that he wants to mentor the players so that they become the best versions of themselves, on and off the field. This is a statement that means he invests in his team. He wants them to put forth their best everywhere they go.
In the current political climate where we are constantly watched and recorded at work, and where anything we do off duty lands us on the news, it is important to take heed that we too need to be the best versions of ourselves no matter where we are. Our shift officers need to know and embody this as well.
Placing your people first and investing your time and energy into them on the job can be a constant reminder to them that what they do and how they present themselves to the public and each other is important in creating and maintaining the image of a professional police department. Got a few guys who like to find a place to tuck away and sleep in the middle of the midnight shift? Adopt an informal policy where you go over some case law or the latest officer-involved shooting in the middle of that shift back in roll call, or a central area you can respond from. Get your people involved, and run some round table discussions when the shift typically slows down. War-game some team scenarios. This keeps them awake and alert, and you all just might learn something. This can establish a sense of pride, which they can take with them off duty, ensuring they’re being their best on and off the field.
There is a Greek proverb that states, “A society grows great when men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.” The relevance of this to us as leaders is two-fold: always prioritize the good of the organization, and the good of those who serve under our command.
When we become leaders in our departments, it is almost inevitable that we are going to be leading some officers who want what we have in our positions. This is a wonderful opportunity to become a mentor for these individuals. It is important that we realize we are at some point, especially if we ourselves plan to move up, training our replacements. The age-old adage of leaving something better than when you found it rings true here as well.
We have all had supervisors who did things we didn’t like. We were unable to go after a certain position, or tackle certain warrants because of poor understanding of tactics or fear of liability due to not understanding the policy by said leader. Now that we are in that position, we have the ability to change that for those under us.
Sure, you may not be the one making the type of busts or warrant services that you wanted when you were still on patrol, but now you have the ability to enable all the officers who do. Realizing that you are still a part of the action and that now you are influencing others to be proactive the way you wanted to be is bettering them as individuals, as well as improving the image of the department you work for. These officers are going to grow up to be like you; they’re always watching you. And if you enable them to do the things you weren’t enabled to do, they’re going to see that, and they’re going to continue that when they are in your position.
If you’re lucky, and you do a good enough job preparing that, then they may even do it BETTER than you. That’s not a slight to you; it’s a goal and a compliment. As Rebecca Welton says on "Ted Lasso" to the girl she is mentoring, “A good mentor hopes you move on. A great mentor knows you will.” This means that you provide the proper purpose, direction and motivation to your subordinates so that where you crawled, they will eventually walk, and if you leave a good enough legacy, THEIR subordinates will be able to RUN.
"Ted Lasso" takes these lessons and wraps them up in easily digestible moments and very quotable one-liners. The lessons, though funny, are also poignant, and do have legitimacy in their use within the profession of policing. The roll call room can double as a place to not only pass information, but get to know your shift, pass on wisdom, create memories, issue advice, start mentor/mentee relationships, and essentially anything else your imagination as a leader can come up with. This is where you get to directly influence your team.
Leadership is a challenge. There is no doubt about it, but as Ted says, “Taking on a challenge is a lot like riding a horse, isn’t it? If you’re comfortable while you’re doing it, you’re probably doing it wrong.”