Great Product Managers are on route to becoming tomorrows CEOs.

Mark Dance in his podcast for featureplan (Are Great Product Managers Born or Made) states that the first rule for hiring great product managers is to hire product managers that can grow to be CEOs because they are: the CEOs of tomorrow and are the CEOs for their products. Adam Bullied, in his blog post Not Being CEO, reviews the common aspects of the CEO and Product Manager role, he states that:
“The responsibility of the roles heavily intersect. A large part, in my estimation, is due to both positions having visibility company-wide, and the requirement of working with everyone in a company in order to get your job done.”
Mark Dance also compares the role of CEO and Product Manager: stating that both are strategic and operational in that they:
#1. Create value for customers
#2. Capture that value and
#3. Protect that value

The steps taken from moving from Product Management to becoming a Chief Executive

Barbara Tallent who progressed from Product Management to being a CEO via being a VP of a few departments’ notes in her blog post Product Manager to CEO in 10 short years says:

"In some ways, being a CEO is no different at all then being a product manager. You are responsible for everything and yet there are outside influences that are out of your control. Yet in some ways it is very different. As a product manager, you have all the responsibility, but none of the authority and you need to coax, cajole, or con people into what is best for the company. As CEO you have a level of authority that is easily misunderstood and even more easily misused. But you still have to build consensus and make people feel like they are part of the decision process so, from that perspective, product marketing prepares you well for the CEO role."

Barbara Tallent reviews her career and gives four attributes that all Product Managers need to embrace to prepare themselves for more senior positions in their organization:
#1. Start thinking like a CEO – think beyond the product, the next sprint, enhancements and bug lists. Think about the position of the product and the company in the market place. Bring people together to talk about the product road map.
#2. People skills: motivation, communication – telling people why products, features etc are or are not important. Be able to lead people.
#3. Live in the sales world for a while – understand the sales process – improve your sales skills because the CEO is always selling, either to customers, investors, or employees.
#4. Learn as much as possible about fund raising and its process. CEOs particularly of start-ups will need to raise funds. Also learn what venture capitalists look for when investing in a company.

Growing CEOs from with in the company

Joseph L. Bower in November’s issue of Harvard Business Review gives a number of pointers for those wishing to progress to the level of CEO. The article points out that:

#1.The most successful CEO’s, on balance are developed inside the company – but manage to retain an outside perspective: there is a need to maintain enough detachment from the local traditions and ideology to maintain the objectivity of an outsider.

#2. Build a track record of delivering in the short term while building for the long term.

#3. Take the opportunity, should it arise, to run a business unit, department or even a risky project that gives you the opportunity to be responsible for profit and loss (P/L).

Attributes needed for driving a company forward

Bower also lists four key skills that a new CEO needs to drive a company forward and produce the results that the board and shareholders are looking for:

#1. Anticipate where the world and the companies markets are heading and create a vision to position the company accordingly.

#2. Identify and recruit, if need be, the talent that can transform the vision into reality.

#3. Gain a real understanding for the problems and issues that the company faces.

#4. Understand how the company really works – who are the key players that make things happen.

Irrespective of whether you’re a Product Manager who wants to improve their Product Management skills and standing within their company or whether you are looking to climb the corporate ladder – the advice and tips, I’ve summarised, from the authors quoted in this blog post are applicable.

Final word from Tallent was that “There is a whole lot of good ‘fortune’ and timing that goes into anyone's career” including her own she adds.

I believe the key is to be striving to reach your full potential, at each step in your career, so should the doors of opportunity open (running a risky project, taking on P/L responsibility for a business unit or becoming a CEO) you are prepared to rise to the challenge and walk through the open door.

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