Written by Esther Chung
So, I recently started writing some blog content for this quirky magical place I work at called Unfold. My latest writing assignment: our leadership team. I prepared my list of hard-hitting questions, sat down with all of my managers, and held an interview panel to better understand their leadership style.
As I re-read my notes and listened back to the meeting recording, their leadership approach began to sound more and more familiar until a realization came to me: all of my managers are Ted Lasso.
Here are some ways the Unfold leadership style is similar to that of the eternally optimistic and unconventionally charismatic coach Ted Lasso.
The remainder of this blog post will include comparisons and references to the hit TV show, so if you haven’t watched it yet – please do. It’s amazing.
They Bake you Biscuits
Let me just start off by saying that I, like many, see myself as more of a Roy Kent. While I don’t drop profanities in every sentence, nor am I a hairy British man – expressing emotion is not my strong suit. So when I first started at Unfold, I was unfamiliar with the inside jokes, the family culture, or how trust was given so freely. But day by day, I began to acclimate to a leadership style that was completely foreign to me: believing in your team.
How did my managers convert me into the emotive mushball writing this blog post? The same way that Ted Lasso wins over the formidable Rebecca: with biscuits. The same thoughtfulness and care that Ted puts into baking biscuits for his boss every morning, Unfold leaders put into supporting their fellow melonheads. But seriously, they do. Straight from the horse’s mouth, here are some steps Unfold managers take to cultivate lasting relationships with their team – the Ted Lasso way:
“I try my best to pay attention to and learn each person’s love languages. That’s a huge part of being a manager: learning how to communicate with different people and what motivates them.”
“I start off each day asking myself, how can I be the best manager I can be today? I try to set my intentions every morning before work to help each member of my team.”
“When I first started at Unfold, I told my parents that I was playing video games later with my boss. They just didn’t get it…”
They Invest in Their Players
In the show, one of Ted’s defining characteristics is his unfailing optimism. Despite the odds that are sometimes stacked against Richmond, Ted believes in each and every member of his team. And sometimes, he gets creative to find ways to uplift his team and extract the potential that he sees in them. Whether that’s surprising Sam Obisanya on his birthday to buck up his spirits, or taking Isaac McAdoo to a local practice match to get him out of his head – Ted invests in his players.
Similarly, Unfold’s leadership strategy is to invest in the people who comprise our team; our process is intentionally structured to promote that. A few examples:
1. “That’s why we work on client projects from Monday to Thursday so that Fridays are dedicated to learning new skills or working on internal initiatives.”
2. Our project teams, comprised of a lead and assist designer, are given full autonomy and ownership of their projects.
“We recognize that everyone works differently, so we want to give project teams the freedom to do their thing.”
3. Ever heard of Dronies? You know, the “Birds Aren’t Real” NFT collection that sold out in under five minutes? Well, it started out as a little seedling of an idea that Unfold allowed our very own Dave Svezhintsev to run with and manage. As an extension of Unfold, there’s also Unfold Labs – which gives support and resources to our side hustles and passion projects.
“We want to allow people the freedom to build things that they can own and invest in, in their own way.”
They’re Not Concerned with Wins and Losses
Ted Lasso is just chock-full of silly yet simultaneously moving quips. One in particular that I find especially applicable is: “For me, success is not about the wins and losses. It’s about helping these young fellas be the best versions of themselves on and off the field.”
Ted measures the success of his team by their dedication to not only the game but to each other. Unfold’s leadership uses a parallel approach that’s rooted in trust – in the team and in the growth process.
“We’re gonna trust you to do what you can do – it’s okay to fail sometimes. We’ll figure it out together.
“We try to build a level of trust and comfortability with each other so that when an issue does occur, we can talk about it. How can we fix it, how can I support you to fix it?”
“I’ve made so many mistakes. What matters is that you never stop learning and growing.”
Out of all the unconventional but compelling coaching tools that Ted uses, the most powerful one of all is his ability to believe. During a particularly moving scene of rare seriousness from Ted, he says “I believe in hope. I believe in ‘believe.’ “
As simple as this idea seems, it takes practice and intention. That’s why Ted has multiple posters with the word BELIEVE written in big blue letters across them. And that’s why Unfold’s leadership has made it the foundation of their entire management philosophy.
“The trust that we have is rooted in empathy. Part of the reason why we set up our team structures the way that we do is so we can create empathy among the team. We all take turns leading, and then assisting each other.”
“It’s simple. We’re for our team and believe the best in them, in any situation.”
“At the end of the day, it is a leap of faith to jump without knowing where you’re going to land. It’s important to us to let the team know that we’re stepping out there with them.”
It’s ironic that Unfold’s leadership has so many similarities to a fictional TV character, one that you think is too good to exist. Both are silly, full of dad jokes, and an unfailing force of goodness. In the show, they call that the Lasso effect. Here, it’s called Unfold.