For many ambitious product managers becoming a product leader – Head of Product, GPM, or Director of Product – is the ultimate goal after a Senior Product Manager milestone. Having a seat at a company’s leadership table, managing a team of direct reports, (co)creating strategy, and directly impacting an organization’s bottom line are just a few responsibilities aspiring product managers can’t wait to gain.
While the path to product leadership is not always linear or straightforward, it is an achievable North Star. By design or stroke of luck, some product managers reach their goal and can’t wait to roll up their sleeves. A few might get proper “first-time manager training” at work, while others have to figure it out by trial and error. To save you time on making mistakes and help you learn from the best, we asked three product leaders for three pieces of advice they wish someone shared with them when they transitioned to leadership. Here are their insights.
Andrew Quan, VP of Product at TIER Mobility
Give yourself time
When transitioning into leadership, we tend to be very hard on ourselves and set expectations that might be challenging to meet immediately. Giving yourself time to grow into this role, allowing yourself to make mistakes and learn, and not taking things personally will serve you well on the journey.
Lean on others and delegate
As Product Managers, we get very good at juggling multiple priorities and wearing several hats simultaneously. While this might work on the individual contributor level, it won’t take you too far as a leader. You will be swamped with tasks if you do everything yourself. Lean on others and remember, delegation means your team can try themselves at leadership tasks with you having their back.
Start with a person and culture
While introducing new frameworks, streamlining processes, and removing bottlenecks are critical responsibilities that come with your new role, focusing on the humans who make up your team should be your highest priority. What culture do you want to create? What is important to you? How might this culture support and empower your team members to be at their best selves? Start with these questions.
Dianne Frommelt, SVP of Product Management at HR Acuity
Love your product
To be a successful leader, you need to find joy in the product you’re responsible for. Passion drives PMs more than anything else. You can’t deliver a good product if you don’t love the product, it’s not going to work. . When the storm hits the organization’s ship, a love for your product sustains your motivation and drive.
Try switching domains
Don’t stick with one domain for your entire work experience. While you might enjoy a particular industry and even become its thought leader, diversifying your product experience will make you a better product leader. A person who has seen a lot is more likely to succeed when facing ambiguity.
Truly enjoy the role
This goes without a saying, but many emerging product leaders forget this step. Why do you want to be a leader? Why is it essential for you? What responsibilities of an individual contributor will you miss? How are you planning to cope with that? Reflect on these and other questions to clarify your “why.”
Aliki Helman, High-Performance Expert, Executive Coach
Forge an environment suitable for co-creation
Co-creation is the most powerful driver in product, but enabling it and keeping it up requires a lot of work. Build a culture for that and equip your teams with the tools and mindset necessary to collaborate effectively and build meaningful products together. It is for this reason that the most successful teams work very cross-functionally.
Your leadership style stems from your worldview
If you see the world as dangerous, you are more likely to distrust people around you and develop a tendency to micromanage. The same goes for seeing the world as a safe place full of humans wanting to do the right thing but need some support. This belief is likely to help you empower and develop your team members. Therefore, examine and (re)evaluate your beliefs.
Whatever your give energy – grows
Attention is a very, very scarce resource, even more scarce than time. You probably have noticed that only if you look at processes, people, and goals then they start to change and get better. Attention brings focus, and focus brings energy. The change will then be inevitable. So become very intentional about where you’re placing your attention and learn to prioritize it.
Becoming a product leader can be both an exciting and frustrating experience. There is a lot to learn but even more to unlearn. To help you transition into leadership confidently, we put together a practical program for product managers ready to roll up the sleeves and become leaders today. Our new cohort starts in October, and seats are filling up fast! Reach out to us, and let’s talk to see if this course is the right fit for you.