Leadership Lessons from Sports with Tanvir Bhangoo

Reading Time: 15 Minutes

In today’s podcast, we’re joined by Tanvir Bhangoo where we discuss his leadership framework, which he developed from lessons he learned on the football field.

After the Interview:

About Tanvir Bhangoo

Tanvir is a bestselling author, speaker, and team coach. Tanvir helps leaders worldwide build championship teams in disruptive and uncertain environments. His latest book teaches his leadership framework, which he developed from lessons he learned on the football field.

In Tanvir’s new book, you’ll learn the three stages of his game-changing framework starting with the end in mind: P: The Playoffs (optimize and gain momentum) R: The Regular Season (execute and implement) O: The Off-Season (assess and build)

Read the Transcript

Allison: Welcome back to the Deliberate Leaders Podcast. I am your host and executive business coach Allison Dunn.

I am excited to introduce our guest today. We have with us Tanvir Bhangoo. He is a best-selling author, speaker, and team coach who has helped leaders worldwide to build championship teams. His latest book, The P.R.O. Business Mindset: How to Lead Amid Disruption and Chaos, breaks down his unique leadership framework that has helped Tanvir win championships in the boardroom based on what he has learned on the football field. Tanvir, thank you so much for joining us here today.

Tanvir: The pleasure of being here. Thank you so much for having me, Allison.

Allison: Absolutely. Love to kick these off with a quick deliberate conversation. Tanvir, what would be your number one leadership tip for our listeners?

Tanvir: Be authentic.

Allison: Be authentic.

Tanvir: Be authentic.

Allison: How do people be authentic?

Tanvir: I think we overcomplicate leadership. Something I’ve learned– Again, on the football field that I’ve learned a lot from the coaches is, they don’t hide things. They don’t they don’t sugarcoat things, they tell you how it is but at the end of the day, they have your best interests in mind because he– They’re trying to get the team to win.

Great leaders in business that I’ve seen, that I’ve reported to and something that I’ve been trying with my teams, is be authentic in terms of be yourself, be transparent. Doesn’t mean you have all the answers. It’s OK to say, listen, guys, I don’t know what’s going to happen. But as a leader, I’m going to do whatever I can to do the best that I can to get us out of this situation. Especially in the pandemic, for example. It’s not being afraid– It’s not being– It’s not telling people that you’re not afraid. It’s OK to show fear but instill confidence in your team at the same time. It’s, Be yourself. Don’t try to overcomplicate things.

Allison: I love that. Thank you. Tanvir, these were not my questions but I’m super curious. What position did you play on the field and who did you play for?

Tanvir: Great question. I was 80 pounds bigger than what you see me today. I was 295. I played nose tackle on the defensive line and then played for university in Canada, McMaster University out of Hamilton, Ontario and that was when we won the national championship back in 2011.

Allison: Congratulations. That’s fantastic. Thank you for sharing that. I know a lot of what you have written about ties back to your experience from your football days. I guess my first question is, so that your book, The Pro mindsets and Methodology. Can you explain exactly what that is?

Tanvir: Yes. In a football season or any other sports, more or less, there are 3 seasons. There’s the offseason, when there’s no games, you are working out, you’re recruiting players, you’re getting bigger, you’re evaluating your team and then the regular season, which is as we all know, the first day of the game start all the way to the playoffs is when you’re actually playing the games, you’re winning, you’re getting points, you’re losing games, you’re learning and then the third stage is the playoffs where right now NHL, for example, is in the playoffs, NBA is in the playoffs. The select few teams that do well get to know compete for the championship. That’s the PRO playoffs, regular season, the offseason, the methodology.

That’s something that I’ve– That my coach would always say, championships are one of the offseason, it’s how well we prepared in our offseason that allowed us to wait in our 4th year and the same thing I saw applied in business for me. That is the methodology that is carried into the business world.

Allison: OK, cool. I saw– I think I was doing some research and you had this really great analogy about basically, during the game and then during the season and the correlation of the small mistakes versus big mistakes. Can you walk us through that?

Tanvir: Yes. It’s actually called missed season failure versus a missed play failure. I’m a big supporter of trying and failing and learning quickly, especially in business. That’s how you get results and it’s something in practice in football that you realize is a lot of the great players, a lot of a great teams, they make mistakes almost every single day in practice, in the games. Tom Brady throws an interception. Great players drop a catch, or they have a bad game. Those are called missed play failures.

It’s OK to fail in those small plays because you learn from those. You know what not to do, you know whether or not what you’re trying, is it working or not and miss season failure is when you actually miss out on the entire season. Big failure and what I argue is that the more that you try to do missed play failure so the more you’re encouraging misplay failures, the less likelihood of you to miss a missed or having missed season failure because especially in business, for example, if you’re– You had a big strategy of, let’s say, increasing sales by $10 million, you’re going to have small goals that you’re going to implement every single day.

It’s OK to fail on those quickly and learn from those. Those are misplay failure, and that’s going to allow you to then hopefully get a $10 million goal because now you know what’s working, what’s not working. If you wait to execute, you’re never going to get to 10 million and you never know what’s working or not. That’s the differentiation there.

Allison: OK. Thanks for like making the connection to the topic because I think that that’s really important that it really is not a failure if you’re like working on improving, right? So you don’t miss the game.

Tanvir: Exactly.

Allison: Could you– Obviously, one of the topics, players change in the game of football and players change in the game of business as well. So the topic or the concept of turnover is clearly inevitable.

Tanvir: Yes.

Allison: How do you prepare, navigate, and turn it into an opportunity to rethink about success? 

Tanvir: Our coach would always say, it’s never a rebuild, it’s always a reload. When you’re– Let’s say, your team leaves– I’ll give you an example. My 4th year, we won the national championship, a lot of great players left. In our fifth year, despite the turnover, we went back to the national championship game, and we broke a record for the most consecutive wins.

How do we do that? Because our coaches never had to rebuild the team. We had great players that had been practicing as youngsters who are ready to step up. In the business, exact same thing. Always be number one, building your pipeline. Have great candidates ready to go and number 2, hire people who are adaptable, who can play multiple positions because when somebody does leave, the biggest problem is that now you have a gap. If your team can step up and close the gap while you hire for the replacement, you’re going to have a much easier time to handle the turnover versus trying to find somebody with a 2-month window while there’s a gap in your company. It’s about a reloading which is always starting with being adaptable and constantly recruiting 24/7.

Allison: What guidance would you give to organizations or when executives’ owners say that they don’t have anyone in the pipeline for the positions? Should something happen? And they’ve the resistance of, we’re not ready to bring that on. How do you help them deal with that?

Tanvir: Yes. It’s– I fell into this because I have a lot of students that will reach out to me just for interviews and coffees and I always say yes, and I kid you not I’ve hired I think 3 or 4 individuals that from those coffee chats.

Allison: Me too.

Tanvir: Right? And it’s just saying yes to those– Just those interviews. Now, the students are going above and beyond. They want to get involved which means kudos to them. As an executive, that’s the easiest way to recruit. Somebody is coming to you interviewing themselves. It’s not formal, you get to actually learn about the person, build your pipeline and when you have a gap, you say, you know what? I remember talking to this person. That guy can probably fill in the needs a bit of work, I’m happy to help train this person or this girl that I talk, she’s really strong in analytics, maybe just need a little bit of coaching. Let’s bring them in and let’s give them all the coaching we can. That’s how you recruit constantly is say yes to these small interviews and small coffee chats. It’s by far the most positive ROI that I’ve seen on my time.

Allison: I 100% agree with you and I feel like it’s a technique and a strategy that’s not used very often. I’m with you on that.

Tanvir: Yes, and–

Allison: Away from this, yes.

Tanvir: Yes, honestly, I’ve built a team of8 during my corporate years in 2 months and not a single time did we post a job online. It was all through people reached out to us, people that I knew, people that some my professor knew someone. That’s how you hire. That’s how you get great people. Don’t just put out a job posting and expect to find the great people. It starts with leadership.

Allison: Fantastic. Thank you. Such a good tip. You say that those who focus on leadership and adaptability will not only let success turn into complacency but it will win the post pandemic. Why do you say that?

Tanvir: The nature of business today is, it’s changing very fast and this is the analogy from sports. Sports is changing constantly. There’s– You can go into with a great strategy but next thing you know, there’s a interception, fumble in football, or your own goal. You set your own goal in soccer and you’re down to nothing at halftime.

Tanvir: Similarly, in business right? After the pandemic, there’s– You got the Amazons of the world now opening up pharmacies and subscription models and disrupting businesses. All you– All you’re going to be competing on now is not technology, it’s not going to be strategy. It’s going to be adaptability. If you have a team that is able to adapt and enter different markets, you will win. If not, you will least find a way to make something out of nothing versus having a team that is set on a 5 year strategy that does not want to change, does not want to reimagine how they think. Those are the companies that are in trouble. That’s what I mean by being adaptable and reimagining where you’re headed.

Allison: I definitely would say that that resonates probably with anyone who’s listening. That– We recognize businesses that weren’t able to shift and be adaptable during the pandemic just went away. They just– They threw up their hands and gave up like, that’s not our model. We don’t do that. Right? Don’t work from home, we don’t do delivery, we don’t– Whatever that thing is.

How– What’s– What would be your tips on having people who might be resistant to being adaptable, learn how to flex that muscle?

Tanvir: I think the one thing that I always tell a lot of our clients and executives is look at the history when you have to reframe your mind. Look at the history of the past 20, 30 years.

I’ll give the example of the Sony Walkman. Right? One decade is there. The other decade, you got iTunes, Blockbuster, you’ve got all these other like, OK, another cool finding is a Swiss watch. Industry is best understood in the world from watches but they’re exporting half as many watches now when compared to Apple. Disruptions happening there as well. 

Just reframing your mind as that says that, hey, everybody has had to change, everybody’s had to shift their business and now that you are in this spot, you don’t want to be looking back 10 years and saying, oh, crap, I wish we had shifted our minds.

One is, to understand that nobody special, everybody has to change along with the times. The second thing is to actually look at where do you want to be as an individual in the next 5, 10 years and where is the external environment going? For example, if you are, let’s say this talk– Let’s pick on accountants. If you’re a great accountant– We’ve got some friends, right? You’re a great accountant and you know that you want to be working at this company for the next 5, 10 years but you also know that there’s a lot of tasks that you are doing right now that are being duplicated by AI and it doesn’t take a rocket science to say in 10 years, most of the stuff that you are doing 80% of that will become automated, which means as an accountant, whether you like it or not, some of the low level tasks, you’re going to have to find a way to shift your focus to some higher level tasks which means you got to perhaps look at some leadership training, maybe you need to look at a different company that can value your accounting skills in a different environment because whether it’s accounting, picking an accountant, and any role that’s repetitive will get automated.

When you started looking at in that perspective, now you’re like, OK, what did this mean for me? Where can I flex my best skills in the future? Where will I be inimitable? What can I do that nobody else will copy? And what do I need to do in the next 5 years to get there, so that I can have some sort of a skill set that is going to be in demand? So basically looking, I call it the future backup and the current forward plan. You want to work forward and look back as well the same time. So reframe your mind and look at where is the industry going and hopefully, it’ll nudge you a little bit to change.

Allison: Those who are too focused on maybe not being long term are going to miss the adaptability for sure.

Tanvir: Yes, we have and this is the time–

Allison: They’ll be too late.

Tanvir: Yes, too late, right? That happened with companies and with people because we are– We’d love to keep your head down as hard with me when I’m on business, right? I’d love to just work. The next thing you know, things have changed and never took a breather. It’s very important, just like sports to take some rest days, take a step back and look at what’s going on around us. Is the strategy still working? And we have to shift some stuff around? Take some time and look at where everything is going.

Allison: I love that tip and it’s almost teeing up my next question. Assuming, the rest taking a step back, getting your head up, getting out of the weeds is an applicable sports to leadership boardroom principle. What other principles are from the world of sports that you apply in business and in leadership?

Tanvir: Well, I apply– We talked about failure on this. That’s a good one. The one thing that’s allowed me to really make– I would say, turn things around quickly in complex environments has been execution and adjustments. Things don’t always go your way and things were not going to go your way, especially when you’re dealing with lots of technology, lots of people, lots of disruption, which means as a leader you have to be able to block out the noise I call it, put your headphones on.

Our coach will always say, put your headphones on. It doesn’t matter what the score says, It doesn’t matter what the stands, people are seeing, just focus on the task. It’s about consistent execution. If you have a plan in place, and you’ve aligned on the key criteria that you have to deliver on, you aligned on the mitigation steps for potential risks. Now, you have to execute on those items. How do you get the team to consistently put in the work every single day versus go and bite at the shiny toys, we call it. There’s a lot of shiny toys out there.

Allison: Did you say, bite on the shiny toys?

Tanvir: Yes, bite the shiny toys, right? It’s so true, especially when you’re not getting results. In today’s world, it takes time to get results and there’s all these things. For example, when I was losing weight, I lost 80 pounds. First time I tried. There was– I saw this ad that said, weight loss for athletes in 10 days. Another ad was like, hey, this amazing get shredded 6 pack abs. I kept biting at these things and actually gained weight because I wasn’t consistent.

The next time I got consistent, I would count the deficit, started doing intermittent fasting and stayed true to just lifting weights and doing my cardio. The week started coming off. It’s not rocket science. Same thing in your business house. Same thing in my business. Same thing in corporate environments. Have a strategy, stay consistent. Do not buy that the new technology that came up, this new vendor that promises you this magic bullet that stuff never works.

Allison: It is hard to not get distracted–

Tanvir: It is hard.

Allison: Or feeling like the fear of missing out, right? If I don’t get on this bandwagon– I do this with Tik Tok and they’re like, why don’t you do Tik Tok? And I’m like, because that’s such a just for me. It’s just a big distraction.

Tanvir: Yes.

Allison: And I’m not sure where to take it but I’m sure I will regret it at some point for not going there but I’m doing something else. You know what I mean?

Tanvir: Yes.

Allison: Yes, good correlating principles. I super appreciate that. 

Tanvir: Absolutely.

Allison: You– You’ve sort of made a proclamation, the concept of that former pro athletes are choosing business consulting after retirement. Tell me more.

Tanvir: Yes. I think I am trying to be a voice for a lot of other little younger athletes who are graduating today, right? There’s a lot of great student athletes out there that just– Or professional athletes that I speak to. Highly talented, have all the great skill sets that say, hey, I didn’t have the experience. I never worked for 5, 6 years after school because I was too busy playing in the CFL or had this professional career and I feel like I’ve missed the train. I don’t have this experience. I’m not sure where to start.

A lot of former athletes get down on themselves after because it’s almost losing their identity, what they were doing for 30, 35 years, right? What I’m trying to do is just help tell the athletes and look, I had no experience when I started in a technology role at the third largest restaurant company in the world. I had zero Tech experience but I had skills that I learned on the football field which is how do you deal with conflict? How do you push through failures? How do you make sure that you’re working together as a team? And that stuff allowed me to figure stuff out as well.

If I can do it, so can everybody else. Think– I’m trying to just be a positive message out there for athletes, whether it’s consulting, whether its technology, whether it’s sales, there is life after sports and its fun so yes.

Allison: For sure. OK. Thank you. Your book, The PRO business mindset, what is it about and who did you write it for?

Tanvir: It is about reading in disruptive times. I, at the end of 2020, I realized that a lot of the way that I was leading, I took a breather after the pandemic and I said, well, what was it– What was consistent across all of my roles that I did? And the consistent and the thread was principles from sports.

Started a podcast, started interviewing former athletes who are executives and I said, well, I got to write a book on this because I need to share this with other leaders whether or not they like sports, whether or not they’re– They played sports. These are principles that you can apply in leadership today, especially as things get more disruptive.

The book is for leaders out there. I think I dedicated it to leaders who are playing for something more than a paycheck, who actually care and want to make a difference. How do you stay motivated and consistent when there’s chaos all around us? And there’s analogies to sports. Just a playbook that you can apply to making some big plays in business.

Allison: OK, fantastic. Do you have your favorite play in your playbook that you’re willing to share something that maybe we haven’t already touched on today?

Tanvir: My favorite play, you know what is actually an introduction? It was actually the introduction and I share a story where when I was 6 years old and my parents took me and my 2 younger sisters to India for 5 years, my dad wanted to go back. I did my grades one to 6 or 5 there. I came back in grade 7, back to Toronto. I was 11 or almost 12 and I had a hard time fitting in. I was– I had a growth spurt, I wasn’t able to play sports. My grades went from like 90s to like 60s. It was just a big culture shock for me and long story short, I started playing tackle football.

A seasoned leader, that one of the coaches brought me aside on the sidelines and said, hey, Tanvir and I was thought I was in trouble. He brought me to the sidelines. He said, well, I just want you to take a walk with me. I said, OK, sure. I’ll come walk with you. He said, do you remember when you started playing football? You weren’t that good. I was like, yes. He’s like, look at you now. Never stop improving. Good job. Give me a pat on my shoulder and told me to go find my mom in the parking lot.

That is a message that has grown with me every single year and that’s what I say in the book is that it’s all about leadership. It starts with you as a leader. The impact you have on your people, to you it doesn’t seem as much to that coach. I don’t even think he remembers doing that but for me, I got my confidence back and that’s what allowed me to build the trajectory I was on personally and professionally today.

Allison: Yes, such a good tie back. You actually gave me goose bumps because I feel like I have a story similar to that of just someone who just said the right thing at the right time to make me realize I hadn’t improved, right?

Tanvir: Yes.

Allison: Awesome. Tanvir, what is the best way for listeners to connect and/or follow you?

Tanvir: LinkedIn is great. Please follow me there. Connect with me there. You can also visit my website at tanvirbhangoo.com.

Allison: Okay, fantastic. It has been a pleasure speaking with you today. Thank you very much for joining us here.

Tanvir: Thank you for being such a great host, Allison. Pleasure to be here.

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