Leading The Ted Lasso Way

Mastering the art of optimism can empower leaders to inspire their teams, navigate challenges with grace and forge a forward-looking organizational culture.

Aug 22, 2023  |  By Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE
NBOA President and CEO

With all the entertainment options now at our disposal, accessible by simply entering in our usernames and passwords on our smartphone or tablet to unlock our favorite streaming channel, it’s hard for many shows to breakthrough the noise. If you’re anything like me, “Ted Lasso” managed to do just that during the pandemic! If so, you likely mourned the recent conclusion of that joyous ride with the screwball personalities of AFC Richmond, the fictional English soccer team, and their always-optimistic coach Ted Lasso – an unlikely transplant from Kansas City, MO, who delivers endearing “fish out of water” antics and life lessons in equal measure. If by any chance you have not had the privilege of watching this show, do yourself a favor and plan your next binge-watch. You won’t regret it. I watched the finale TWICE because it was such a perfect ending to a show that was funny, but also led me to reflect on the true meaning of leadership, success and the humanity within us all.

This is why I read with great interest an article in last month’s CEO Magazine, titled “Five Tips to Lead with Greater Optimism in the Workplace.” I may have skipped right pass a relatively clichéd title like this were it not for its connection to Ted Lasso. The article backs up the notion of the impact of optimistic leadership with science and tools. As we approach the final days of summer (for some, summer days are already over) and muster the energy and fortitude necessary for a successful school year, I hope these takeaways might serve as a welcome reminder of why we “show up” as leaders and the impact it has for those working with us.

While I would suggest a “don’t worry, be happy” mindset is overly simplistic as business leaders, given the myriad financial and operational headwinds facing our independent schools, scientific evidence does underscore the favorable effects of embracing an optimistic leadership stance. According to research cited in the article, when leaders implemented a positive psychology intervention guided by optimism, the percentage of employees who reported that they were happy at work rose from 43% to 62%. Individuals feeling burned out dropped from 11% to 6%, and individuals reporting high stress at work dropped by 30%.

"Optimistic leaders have a propensity to delve into a wider array of solutions, thereby enhancing their chances of identifying effective resolutions for organizational challenges."

For any leader, the prospect of generating such impact within their school is undeniably appealing. When combined with the fact that “optimistic employees are 103% more inspired to give their best effort at work,” it becomes evident that optimistic leaders are positioned to make a substantial difference. They have a propensity to delve into a wider array of solutions, thereby enhancing their chances of identifying effective resolutions for organizational challenges.

Although the article cites that some people are optimistic by nature (I would put yours truly in that category), everyone has the potential to learn how to be more optimistic as a leader. The author offers the following tips:

  1. Find purpose in work and life. I can’t think of a single NBOA member who was not able to connect to the mission and work of their independent school. It is why we do what we do, right?
  2. Mind the pessimistic thoughts. They won’t go away overnight, but recognize them, and replace them with positive ones.
  3. Spend time with positive people. Like seeks like, so if you find yourself surrounded by nay-sayers, you may have some work culture issues to address.
  4. Do the ABC (a cognitive therapy model comprised of adversity, beliefs, and consequences). This requires each of us to address pessimism head on and lean into more optimistic and adaptive behaviors.
  5. Be a realistic optimist. The author of this article cites an HBR thought piece by Heidi Grant, who drew a clear line between realistic optimists and unrealistic ones. Realistic optimists “believe” they will succeed.

“Believe” is the overarching philosophy of Ted Lasso. The power of believing things will be better, problems can be solved, and success is within our reach. I agree with Coach Lasso. And, while he would not approve of the title for this blog — because, as he poignantly shares, it is never, ever, about him — I think he would encourage all independent school leaders to “believe” as we enter a new school year with fresh optimism as we face the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead of us. Your teams and your school will be better for it!

Jeff Shields signature


Jeff Shields

Jeffrey Shields, FASAE, CAE

President and CEO


Washington, DC

Jeff Shields, FASAE, CAE, has served as president and CEO of the NBOA since March 2010. NBOA is the premier national association serving the needs of business officers and business operations staff at independent schools. Shields, an active member of the American Society of Association Executives, has been recognized as an ASAE Fellow (FASAE) and earned the Certified Association Executive (CAE) professional designation. His current board service includes serving as a director for AMHIC, a healthcare consortium for educational associations in Washington, DC, as well as a trustee for the Enrollment Management Association. Previous board service includes serving as a director for the American Society of Association Executives, as a director for One Schoolhouse, an innovative online school offering supplemental education to independent schools, and as a trustee for Georgetown Day School in Washington, DC. Shields holds a BA from Shippensburg University and an MA from The Ohio State University.

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years is the target ceiling for a school plant's financial "age."

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