How CEOs Can Leverage Sports to Make Big Plays in Business

by Tanvir Bhangoo, author of The P.R.O. Business Mindset 

As a young executive at a multinational company, my mandate was to build and execute a digital transformation strategy and boost digital sales. The timelines were tight, there was little margin for error, and cash was limited. The pressure was on to deliver results fast. There was also a lot of low-hanging fruit to pick right away. There were issues that were hurting the brand from a sales and customer satisfaction standpoint that required fixing as soon as possible.  

But, instead of making a list of issues and going to work, I invested most of my time during my first two to three months in the role, of building the foundations. Instead of greasing every squeaky wheel that came to my attention, I spent my time recruiting the right people, getting leadership to buy into my vision, studying and separating the underlying issues from symptoms, and adjusting my personal health and fitness routine to maximize my energy and focus. It was all worth it because the teams, relationships, contingency plans, and systems that I built carried me through the toughest moments down the road.   

Why did I choose to build my playbook first? Because that was the same underlying principle that helped our college football team win a national championship as the underdogs. I saw what building strong foundations could do for you (and your team) when you hit turbulent times. Great sports teams spend the time preparing before the season starts so that they can make big plays in the regular season. You’ll never see a football team show up to a game without preparation.  

Because business today is chaotic, uncertain, unpredictable, and disruptive, it resembles the season of a sports team. The principles, discipline, and lessons learned in sports are highly applicable to the business world. Whether you played sports, are a sports enthusiast, or don’t care much for sports, you can still leverage the power of these concepts.

Here are five ways CEOs can leverage sports to make big plays in business: 

1. Build your playbook (roadmap) 

A playbook forms your strategies, roadmap, and execution methodologies to position yourself, your team, and your organization for long-term results. Before the season starts, CEOs must build a roadmap that accounts for where they need to go, the team they need for the journey ahead, and key investments that need to be made today to thrive in the future. 

First, identify your goals, correctly. Identify your stretch targets and break them down. It’s important to focus on the right goals, versus a visible symptom. Identify the goals that truly matter. 

Then, identify the key success factors that you need to control in your business. What do you (company) do better than your competitors in servicing your customers?  

Then, build your roadmap. Identify the high-level milestones that you need to hit on your path toward your goals. Focus on the big picture and identify the key actions you’ll need to take. This will become the basis of your roadmap to making big plays in business. 

2. Hire to your system and leadership style 

Great sports teams hire based on playbook schemes and systems, which are built around a few key positions. They draft the players that will allow them to execute their playbook and strategy the most effectively.  

In business, this means finding individuals who fit your system (playbook), your personal leadership style, and company culture. Hire teams that are adaptable, and either possess or can learn the skill sets for where you’re headed. Also, keep in mind that not every player on the football field responds well to a certain coaching style. So, hire a team that best responds to your personal leadership style and company culture. 

3. Execute on the 80/20

Whether it’s the Olympics, soccer, basketball, football, or any individual sport, every team or individual athlete wants to win the championship. That is the ultimate goal. To get to that goal, great teams and athletes identify the 20% of activities that they need to execute day in and day out, to get the 80% of the way there. They do these actions consistently. For example, daily practice, studying game film, working out, committing to rest and recovery, building a strong locker room culture, and so forth. 

Similarly, as a CEO looking to make big plays in business, identify your top three priorities from your roadmap, which are generally goals tied to your operating model, such as increasing profitability, or improving your culture. Then, drill down to find the key drivers for each objective, i.e., actions that need to be taken on a daily and weekly basis. Finally, pick the 20% of activities that you and the team should focus on. Assign these actions and activities to the team, build an environment where everyone can execute consistently, and stay the course. 

4. Practice having a short memory 

Great athletes make mistakes. They miss shots and open layups. Or even drop the game-winning catch in the endzone. But great athletes and teams know how to bounce back. They shake off a bad play, or a bad game, and get right back up, ready to compete again.  

Similarly, failures are inevitable in business. But it’s how we react to failure that makes all the difference. I classify failures in two buckets, which I call missed-play failures and missed-season failures. A missed-season failure is when you miss a long-term goal or objective, whereas a missed-play failure is falling short on one or more of the smaller initiatives in your playbook, tied to achieving our high-level goals. The key is to know that missed-play failures are not bad. In fact, most of the time, they teach us something valuable and propel us forward.  

As the CEO, encourage missed play failures, especially if the effort was there. Build systems and mindsets to learn from these failures, adjust the strategy, and continue moving forward. 

5. Build your depth chart 

Lastly, in sports, injuries are part of the game. So, every coach and sports team prioritizes depth as part of their playbook. Depth is having the right players who can jump into the right roles and execute during critical moments in a game. Coaches recruit, train, practice, and to an extent, even run the plays and schemes based on the depth they have.  

In business, turnover is common. We can try and minimize it, but you will still have some turnover. This means as a CEO, you must have a plan to address unexpected changes and have team members ready to fill in, ensuring that business operations don’t suffer. As a quick two-minute exercise, you can list everyone in your team and see whether there is someone who can jump into another role (if need be) and execute on 80% of the responsibilities. If the answer is no, then you need to build and strengthen your depth chart. Build a pipeline of potential recruits and train people internally who can jump in and hold down the fort.

About the Author: 

Tanvir Bhangoo is the CEO of TB Momentum, a training and consulting firm of former elite athletes turned consultants, committed to maximizing team and sales performance in disruptive environments at F500 and high-growth companies. He is also the author of The P.R.O. Business Mindset: How to Lead Amid Disruption and Chaos.

Exit mobile version