In this #mtpcon London+EMEA session, Kristina Walcker-Mayer, CEO at Nuri, explains how being a product manager provides a great apprenticeship to becoming a CEO. Watch the video to see her talk in full or read on for an overview of her key points:
- Vision and strategy ownership
- Cross-functional collaboration
- Decision making
- Executive traits
- Main differences between a product manager and a CEO
- Growing into an executive
1. Vision and strategy ownership
With a quote from Melissa Perri’s book Escaping the build trap, Kristina points out that a good strategy isn’t a plan but a framework that helps you to make decisions. Strategy can provide direction and help to move you forward. Product managers and CEOs must be able to:
- Create a better reality for their customers
- Use innovation to help them to think outside the box and beyond
- Be clear and concise, which includes having strong communication skills
- Win people over to inspire them and define the purpose behind doing anything
- Have the ability to take action and deliver
2. Cross-functional collaboration
Product managers already deal with many different functions in a company. This means that both product managers and CEOs must be able to:
- Understand the overarching focus on growth
- Build product with others, including UX, marketing, sales, tech, business functions, customer service and more
- Understand the commercial perspective
- Have deep sympathy for other functions and departments
- Understand their needs and motivations
- Rely on relationship building
If you behave like a boss, as a product manager or a CEO, people will treat you like one. Rather, you should improve your leadership skills and focus on relationships rather than hierarchy. Both product managers and CEOs need:
- Lateral leadership, which means leading through influence and inspiring others to achieve
- The ability to lead a multidisciplinary team and hold everyone accountable for their success and failure
- To maintain and boost team or company morale
- To read people and adapt your management style
- A willingness to engage in conflict at times
4. Decision making
A wrong decision may be better than none at all. Product managers and CEOs will find that they both need to:
- Be decisive: Deciding with speed and conviction, even under high pressure, is essential, so you should have a framework.
- Be risk-takers and take calculated risks
- Have inclusive decision making
- Understand trade-offs, set timelines, and facilitate conversations
- Understand the impact if they get it wrong and know how much it will hold other things up if they don’t move on something.
5. Executive traits
Honest and direct leaders are the best. They need to have empathy for those above them. Some of the traits that both product managers and CEOs need are approachability, transparency, a growth mindset, adaptability, optimism, curiosity, reliability, and being customer-facing.
The main differences between product managers and CEOs depends on their seniority. At an entry-level or junior position, there is more focus on details and execution, and leading part of the product. At the mid-management level, the focus is on strategy, delegating, and having functional leadership of product managers. At the executive level, there is a broader company focus, the need to lead the leaders, and to be highly adaptable and tolerant of ambiguity.
Growing into an executive
Some tips for growing into an executive from a product manager role are:
- Aim for P&L ownership by keeping an eye on it regularly before taking over as a CEO.
- Learn how to deal with authority and higher management.
- Learn how to communicate with your top management and create empathy for their work.
- Participate in industry-led events and associations to enhance leadership skills, reputation, and potential for success.
The key takeaways from this talk are that product management and CEO roles are quite similar and product managers can be safe in the knowledge that some of their skills can help them in a new role.