ResourcesBlogHow to Step into Leadership and Grow a Winning Product Team 

How to Step into Leadership and Grow a Winning Product Team 

How to step into Product Management leadership

Transitioning into a leadership role after years as a rockstar Product Manager is exciting – but it’s no easy task. In your new position, you’ll be responsible for leading a team of Product Managers and Product Owners, helping them advance their careers while you guide them in strategy creation and tactical execution. You’ll also be responsible for aligning your team’s work with business initiatives, collaborating with stakeholders across the organization, and delivering an exceptional customer experience that drives growth.  

That being said – are you ready? Relax! 280 Group recently hosted a webinar featuring Brooke Huling, former VP of Product Management at Dell and newly announced Chief Product Officer at Aceable.  

During the webinar, Brooke shared sage advice about how to build a leadership tool belt, chalk full of tools and resources for leading your team toward success. Having arrived at her current role after a long, winding, and sometimes bumpy journey, Brooke shared her insights on how she navigated the many challenges she faced, and how others can prepare effectively to do the same on their own career paths. In this post, we’ll take a look at some of the insights she shared. 

Making the Leap to Leadership 

According to Brooke, just because you’re a great Product Manager doesn’t mean you’ll love a leadership role in Product Management. “The reality is that knowing how to do the job is a very small piece of being a great leader,” she said, adding that you should keep the following considerations in mind:  

  1. Understand where you are in life: Before you decide to make that leap, ask yourself if it’s the right time. Are you at a place where you can really embrace the shift? Whatever is going on in your personal life will show up at work, and it’s critical that you’re ready in all aspects of your life to take on a new challenge.
  2. Know your needs: It’s important to clearly identify your needs before and after you switch into a leadership role. Being healthy, seeking connection, feeling appreciated, and other core needs must be met. “Make sure your next career step will actually meet your needs,” Brooke said. “If it doesn’t, you’re not going to be able to meet the needs of your team.”
  3. Understand that your purpose will shift: When you’re a Product Manager, your joy comes from the hands-on work – writing product stories, working with engineering, doing demo days and launching products. But when you become a leader, your purpose shifts to supporting others in doing these activities. “Your joy will come from growing your team and seeing them thrive and succeed,” Brooke said.
  4. Seek input: Before you transition, seek feedback from others who’ve made a similar move and ask them about their experiences. It’s also important to talk to those who tried leadership roles and moved back into Product Management, to see why it didn’t work for them.
  5. Know what makes you happy: Make sure you’re taking the role because of the joy it will eventually bring you. “It’s really important that you’re not transitioning into leadership just to climb the ladder,” Brooke said. “It has to be about you and what makes you happy.”

Once You’ve Made the Leap, Invest in Yourself!

Whether you’re working for a big or small company, or something in between, no one will hand you a manual for managing their products – you must find the tools and resources you need on your own. “You have to invest in yourself,” Brooke said. She mentioned that 280 Group is a great resource for expanding your skill set and earning certifications.  

Brooke also suggests requesting a 360-degree review, where your peers, superiors, reports, and others in the organization provide feedback about your performance. “The review may be painful and require that you have a glass of wine in your hand while you read it, but remember that nobody’s a perfect leader,” she said. “The best leaders are always looking for ways to grow, and they understand that feedback is a gift.” 

Finding a coach or mentor is imperative, as well. “You can’t make a transition into a leadership role without help,” Brooke said. “You will need the right tools, a support system and mentorship.” However, your mentors will likely change over time. “Don’t be afraid to fire your coach,” she added. “We as individuals are responsible for our own careers, and we have to determine what we need out of a coaching relationship. If it’s not working, it’s up to us to call the ball and not be afraid to go find a new one.”  

Additionally, it’s important to give your team some space and time to adapt. “Trust is earned, not given on day zero, so you’ll have to work your way up the trust ladder with every person on the team,” she said. “Don’t be a bull in a China shop and come in with guns blazing, talking about the product portfolio and what you want to change. Instead, ask a lot of questions and communicate. Get to know them and their families, and what makes them tick. That’s how you start to build trust.” 

Optimal Product Management

Tools and Rules for Success 

Brooke’s list of tools and rules for new leaders, to get them off on the right track, ranked 280 Group as an invaluable resource. “Be sure to put professional development in your budget, and encourage your team to take courses,” she said. “You can learn a new framework or earn a certification, and it’s a team bonding experience, as well.” 

280 Group offers several training opportunities for Product professionals of all ranks and levels, in various formats – self-study, online, and in-person – for your convenience. Our flagship Optimal Product Management course provides the foundational knowledge to get your team on the right track, and speaking the same language. Get in touch with us today about your team’s needs. 

Roger Snyder
July 19, 2022