Early in her career in the National Football League’s business development office, Renie Anderson saw an opportunity for promotion to vice president that interested her and she confided as much to her boss. His response was blunt: “You’re not ready for that position yet. But here’s what you need to do so that the next time it opens up, you will be ready.”

The passionately hard working Anderson might have been tempted to argue her case or respond with bitterness or resentment; instead, she chose to listen to someone she valued as a mentor. “In the coming months, he spent a lot of time with me on presentation and management skills,” recalled Anderson. After meetings, they would debrief not only on topical issues but also on what she did well in the meeting and where she could do better next time. The experience set the course for her thriving NFL career.

“I realized that if I put my pride to the side and opened myself to growing, there was a lot I could learn about the cadence of work life, how to handle a certain situation that can be frustrating and remain calm when the person across the table is being unprofessional,” Anderson reflected. “The key was being self-aware.”

True to her mentor’s word, when he left to pursue an opportunity elsewhere, Anderson was ready to seize the moment and begin her move up the NFL management ladder, a move that took her all the way to upper management as the top female executive at the country’s top sports league. As the Chief Revenue Officer and Executive Vice President of NFL partnerships, Anderson oversees the League’s sponsorships, new business, and media sales for their NFL Network.

A former competitive gymnast and cheerleader who grew up on a farm in Western Kentucky prior to making her way to the bright lights of pro sports, Anderson says practicing self-awareness is one of the great challenges for people as intensely competitive as she is. In the podcast, she shares a number of lessons for any leader seeking to learn how to lead oneself as well as others.

These include:

• Surrounding yourself with people who will challenge you to be your best rather than keep you down.

• Treating your career as a series of stages, each one of which calls for re-evaluating what you’re willing to sacrifice at that time in your life.

• Knowing what the phrase “fake it ‘till you make it” really means—and what it shouldn’t mean—when it comes to your career.

Anderson’s 17 years thriving in the NFL represent an impressive feat. A member of the Sports Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 Hall of Fame, Anderson has rarely shied away from raising her hand when an opportunity knocks. “I’m an expert in the seat I sit in,” she said. “But I know there is so much I don’t know. If I have the ability to learn, I will always be able to grow.”

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