HomeBlog ⋅ Wonder Woman Reneé Brown

Wonder Woman Reneé Brown

April 15th, 2015 by Annette

Reneé BrownToday’s Wonder Woman Wednesday is one of the most confident and deeply powerful people I’ve met. She is the Chief of Basketball Operations and Player Relations for the WNBA, which will hold the WNBA Draft 2015 on April 16th.

I caught up with her for a few moments to chat about the draft, what inspires her, and some surprising insights from a leader in the boldest women’s athletic leagues in the world.

Annette

Give me a sense of what this moment is like through the eyes of these young women. What are they thinking and feeling as they prepare for their first day going pro?

Reneé 

When I think about the players coming into the WNBA, they have been working themselves along with their teams and teammates around the country at all of our top divisions and schools on this day for the last 4 years – they’ve been preparing themselves to eventually become a professional player. What’s cool about it for me is that if you talk to any of these college players, it’s been a dream of theirs since they were 8 years old. So this dream now – on April 16th – is coming to life for them. Not only for them, but for their families and for their college coaches. What’s been fun about it is just getting everything prepared for them to have this special day, this dream that they’ve been dreaming all their lives to finally have it come true.

Annette

You’ve been around now for 19 years –what mindset shifts have you seen? What new possibilities exist?

Reneé 

As I look back 19 or 20 years ago, a young woman graduating from college, her mindset was not to play professionally at home in front of her friends and family, she would have to go overseas. The change in the mind-set is that they now know that they have a placea destination to go and play professional basketball in the country once they are done playing at the collegiate level. That mindset is really huge, they know now, “Listen, I can stay and play in the best women’s basketball professional league in the world where the best players come to play, where the best competition is. I have an opportunity to join that family, to join these great female basketball players.

Annette

What exciting progress have you seen? Give me the good news.

Reneé 

When I look at these young women as some of the best players you’ve ever seen play. As an evaluator and a scholar of talent, it’s great to see how players are coming in bigger, stronger, faster – versatile. What I like is to see some of them are coming with the knowledge that “I belong in this league!” That’s really great to see.

Annette

Amazing! I want to highlight something you said. It’s a great point for anyone. Whether you’re a professional athlete, someone who’s breaking out into a new market, community, family or role, to be your best and play with the best it helps to make room for yourself, include yourself and step in with the mindset:

“I belong here. I’m prepared for this”. 

Reneé 

Yeah, and I have to tell you one of the things that I can see: I’ve noticed for quite some time. Back in the beginning when we first started this league and we were only 19 years young, you’d ask a college player who she wanted to be like and she wanted to be like Michael Jordan, or Magic Johnson, or Larry Bird. Now you’re hearing, “I want to be like Skylar Diggins”, “I want to play like Lisa Leslie”, “I want to play like Sue Bird.” They have women to look up to now. They’ve emulated their game after Tamika Catchings, if you talk to Maya Moore, Maya will say that she watched Tamika Catchings and she wants to play like her. Or another young girl, Brittany Boyd, she would tell you, “I followed Cappie Pondexter, I have emulated I have copied her game, Cappie was my inspiration to play the guard position the way that I play.” It’s great to see that happening as we continue to grow our league.

Annette

How does communication shape game performance?

Reneé 

It’s funny, because basketball is almost instinctive. Sometimes you can look into each other’s eyes and players are able to read each other. But there’s 3 things: 

It starts with your point guard.

You have to communicate on both offense and defense.

And you have to have strong communication with your coach.

So if you’re in a huddle you’re watching to see if the player is paying attention to her coach as the coach speaks and you also watch to see how a player communicates with their other teammates, giving them a high five, talking to them during time out. You know, cheering them on, giving instructions. A player that is supposed to protect the basket you know, letting her guards know, “I’ve got you, I am there.” So communication plays a big role.

Annette

Many of my clients come to me when they’re struggling to confidently lead. They all want to know: how do I get my team to perform at a level that I see that they can perform? When you were coaching, how would you intervene when a player wasn’t communicating? What advice would be useful for those who manage, coach, and develop their own teams?

Reneé 

If you’re really a leader you set the example by listening to whoever your team is. I have learned it the hard way myself. You’ve got to be a great listener to be a great leader. And I think that the people that you work with when they recognize that yes I do have a voice, yes the leader is listening to me, I think then…it opens it up because they recognize they have a voice and they will listen even more.

Annette

So true. I’ve found when people feel heard, they’re more likely to engage, participate, and follow.

Reneé 

More collaborative and more teamwork, more everybody understanding what their roles are and collectively doing them. You are stronger as a group when you are all together. I think great leaders are smart people who allow others to do their jobs and make the decisions. You’ve got to believe there are very good people out there and you brought them in, you’ve hired them, and you allow them to make decisions. A coach, when you’re in practice, you run practice and when players go to play, you’ve got to trust them enough that they’re going to make good decisions.

Annette

Yeah that makes total sense.

Reneé 

I think that you get good people around you, people who—may know things you don’t even know—or may know more than what you know. I’ve got a great guy here that’s in analytics and I trust him in his analytical work– you know, it’s what he does. So I think once you bring in people that you feel can do the job that you need them to do, you’ve got to let them do the job. And they come to you when they need you, but you’ve got to trust them enough that they are going to get the job done.

Annette

Renee, you’ve accomplished so much in your career, as a coach, Director, and ultimately a Vice President of the WNBA. What do you attribute your success to?

Reneé 

It’s two things actually, I think first of all, the people that came before me and helped me – because I don’t think you do anything by yourself. Thinking back to when I first started, as a middle school coach to coaching at Stanford to working with our Olympic program, being fortunate enough to work with some of the greatest basketball players …in the world, people believed in me and gave me opportunities. Second, it’s my passion and faith which are very important to me. I’ve been very, very blessed. I am lucky to work with such a number of great people that are very good at what they do, but the thing is, just as in anything that you do, you’ve got to be willing to work hard at it and you’ve got to be passionate about it. I still have the passion and love for the game.

I think you’ve got to be prepared when the opportunity comes so you can take advantage of it.

Annette

You definitely do. Over the years we’ve talked a lot about the importance of environment and surrounding oneselves with those who lift us higher.

What cultivates a winning environment?

Reneé 

You have to become selfless instead of selfish. And be willing to take one for the team, be willing to be a contributor of the team. And I look at any program I’ve ever worked with and someone says you know how does USA basketball win? how did Stanford win? it’s because of people that are in the culture—in the team, they are selfless. It’s all about their teammates. You’ve really got to become that, to become selfless. It’s much bigger than you. As a leader you have to be a servant leader, it’s important that the people that work with you, that you lift them up.

Annette

There is so much light in what you just said. [Laugh] That’s amazing!

Reneé 

And it’s funny because I mean it. I really mean it. I think you’ve really got to become selfless, you’ve got to just remove yourself and think bigger. There is nothing bigger, there is no one bigger than our league. It’s a brand that we all should be proud of.

It’s all about teamwork and collaboration. For the good of whatever it is that you are trying to accomplish. And when it is accomplished, everybody… everybody takes credit for it, everybody. Everybody has a piece of it.

Annette

Now you said a core component of your success, was people reaching out and stretching a hand because they saw something in you and believed in you. What do you say to women who struggle with, ‘oh I don’t have the right connections, there’s no one around who can help me.’ What would you offer to them?

Reneé 

Ditch that mindset. If there is something that you want to go do, go do it. Dawn Staley has this quote where she says “You’ve got to be willing to do the things you don’t want to do to get what you want.” So you can’t wait on people, you’ve got to go and dig up your own road to wherever you are trying to go. You map it out and get to the phone and say, ‘Hey, I’d love to meet with you’ or ‘Hey, can you help me meet with that person?’ You know that whole thing, ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’?

It’s true, you’ve got to go out and you’ve got to make a way for yourself. And ask for it, I think some people are afraid to ask for help. You’ve got to raise your hand and say that you need help.

Annette

There’s no shame.

Reneé 

None.

Annette

And I find so many people hesitate to ask because they don’t see what they have is a gift, that who they are is enough. Part of what keeps people from asking for help or encouragement is they don’t have a strong belief in their own power. It’s something I struggled with years ago.

So now I want to know…

What mindset gives you the confidence to ask?

You are one of the most confident women that I have ever met in my life!

Reneé 

Yeah, you know what Annette, I think that this whole idea of not wanting to ask for help because you don’t want people to know that you don’t know. I think that it takes courage to ask for help, I do. I’ve lived a long time so I’ve figured it out. I would say to anyone: you’ve got to be willing to just go and ask for help and not worry about what people think about you. What if they think I am a novice? You can’t worry about it.

All of us, I don’t care who we are, learnt something from someone. I am learning every day and I am not too prideful, or too insecure myself that I can’t ask for help. I think you’ve got to be willing to step out on that, just step out. 

Sheryl Sandberg says “lean in, get in the conversation.”

I understand that it’s tough to start small, to have that feeling of ‘I don’t know if I can’. So you should sample something, try it and then I think each day you do it, it will just…you will get…I don’t know if the word is courage but that’s the only word I can think of. You know you’ll get out of that rut of ‘oh I don’t know if I should I don’t feel they’ll help me’ those are the voices in your head, and until you change that…until you change that narrative you are going to be stuck.

Annette

Those voices get especially loud when we perceive challenges. Tell me about a time in your life when you went through a difficult transition or a challenge?

Reneé 

Yeah, when I decided to leave coaching. Coaching was all I knew. I had been coaching from the age of 18 or 19 until I was 40. For 20 years that’s what I wanted to do, that is what I knew. All of a sudden, here comes Reneé Brown on her first trip to New York City, on my second trip to New York I was interviewing, and on my third trip I was moving!

Annette

[Laugh]

Reneé 

I never left this city. It’s crazy! So I’m leaving the coaching world and now working for a corporation. I came to the WNBA, the NBA being the umbrella. I’m coming in to help them start up this amazing league. As I walked into my office on fifth avenue on that first day, I am like, “What in the world have I done? Coaching is what I know.” Now I’m an executive. This was a lot different than coaching. I can still remember those voices repeating, “What have I done?.. What have I done?” I couldn’t go back – you know what I mean – I had given it up. By the time I sat at my desk, I was like, ‘Oh, wait a minute, Reneé, you can look at this and say “what the heck have I done?” or you can look at it as a clean slate and say “my goodness, I can create this. I have an opportunity to create something.”

So, I took all of the knowledge I had from coaching and was able to apply a lot of it.

It’s almost like somebody going to the free throw line for a winning shot and saying “What am I doing here?” Or you can own, you are where you are, step on that free throw line and make the throw.

When encountering challenges, especially when starting a business or something new, people need to look back at all the things that they’ve done in their lives and realize all of that has prepared you for what you’re currently doing. 

There is a set of skills and it’s a set you can transfer over to whatever you are doing. And that’s what I did.

Annette

That’s a great illustration of controlling our perceptions of any task at hand. At that time you had to be a pioneer, right? There was no existing structure.

Reneé 

No. But Annette, I realized that NBA had a structure, so I went down there and I met with Satch Sanders and a group of people downstairs and it really helped me. So that’s why I am saying they could be willing to help.

Annette

I wish I could hear what was going on in your mind as you went down on that walk.

Reneé 

Oh yes, I had a ton of questions for Satch and I know he’d help me. I just knew…

Annette

Yes, and I think that’s a huge key to getting what you want. Maintaining the belief that people want to help and they want to help you win.

Reneé 

I think most people do, people want to help you.

Annette

I want to know, what’s the biggest request that you’ve ever made?

Reneé 

Oh, the biggest request I ever made is personal, when I was 11 years old I asked my step mother to raise me. [Pause] And she did.

Annette

11 years old.

Reneé 

I was 11 years old, my parents were divorcing and I asked my mother if I could come and live with her, would she raise me, and she did. Best thing that could ever happen to me.

Annette

Yeah. I know she’s a huge part of why you are who you are. What was the best piece of advice your mama ever gave you?

Reneé 

The best advice that Evelyn Brown ever gave me, was when I was 13. I was upset with a friend in school. I was telling her how this girl made me feel bad about myself. She told me that no one ever takes your confidence unless you give it away.

—————————————————–

WNBA Draft 2015 presented by State Farm will be held on Thursday, April 16, at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Conn. ESPN2 will provide coverage and analysis of the first round beginning at 7 p.m. ET, and ESPN3 will air the second and third rounds beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

The WNBA – which features 12 teams and is the most successful women’s professional team sports league in the world – is a unique global sports property combining competition, sportsmanship, and entertainment value with its status as an icon for social change, achievement, and diversity.  The league, which counts Boost Mobile as its leaguewide marquee partner, will tip off its 19th season in June 2015.

Through WNBA Cares, the WNBA is deeply committed to creating programs that improve the quality of life for all people, with a special emphasis on programs that promote a healthy lifestyle and positive body image, increase breast and women’s health awareness, support youth and family development, and focus on education.  For more information on the WNBA, log on to www.wnba.com.

 


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