Wisdom from Industry Experts in Your Journey Toward Executive Leadership
By: Women In Product
In our series, The Path to CPO, we heard from nine accomplished Chief Product Officers (CPOs) and other knowledgeable professionals, each sharing invaluable insights from their journeys.
But before we wrap the bow of this series, we’d like to highlight six crucial takeaways we’ve gathered from the episodes.
#1 Curiosity Fuels Adaptation and Connection:
One outstanding theme among the impressive women product leaders we spoke with was curiosity. They utilized that desire to learn to adapt to new markets, navigate new situations, and connect with others.
Both Heather and Alex built a range of experiences across different stages of companies and discovered what really mattered to them were the product and the business scale, respectively. Annie found that choosing opportunities that were a little unconventional helped her know herself better and build a broader skill set.
#2 Understand the Role, Assess Your Skills, and Identify the Gaps:
It’s important to recognize that you are actually interviewing the companies as much as they are interviewing you. That one-on-one time is the best opportunity to ask critical questions and see how your skills align with the job.
For example, Jen’s superpower was deeply partnering with technical teams and helping them operationalize and scale. The challenge for her was finding a company at the right stage. Constantly reassessing skills alignment, as Anneka emphasizes, is an ongoing process crucial for growth and adaptability.
#3 Shifting from Operator to Visionary:
There are a lot of key differences between VP of Product and CPO roles, specifically where you shift from a functional leader to an executive. As a CPO, prioritizing across the C-suite becomes paramount. Your duties will require you to weigh in on diverse topics and make decisions that may mean resource sacrifices for the product but benefit the company as a whole.
Anneka talks about when a company needs to make big bets that span multiple years. Those involve understanding the impact on the entire organization and clearly assessing the strategic implications. They are more than just product or technology decisions. Yuying points out that, ultimately, being in a C-suite role means the buck stops with you.
#4 Believe in Yourself:
As simple as it may sound, if you believe in yourself, you are more likely to raise your hand to take on new projects that are a stretch. Or, as Yuying did, you’re more likely to pursue an opportunity that didn’t seem obvious to career growth to begin with.
A part of believing in oneself is to also see yourself as the leader that you want to be. This was one of the most important self-reflections for Amory. Women face gender-related challenges all the time, and Amory ran into the likeability issue. She chose to see it as a communication challenge rather than about her as a person.
Nupur and Heather both discussed self-doubt and imposter syndrome. One of their strategies for coping with it was to remind themselves that they truly deserved their current role (and you should too).
#5 Aligning Career with Personal Mission:
Understanding what motivates you is pivotal in making career choices that feel good. Alex’s emphasis on impact, Nupur’s dedication to health, Heather’s pursuit of personal fit, and Annie’s fascination with problem-solving all exemplify the importance of aligning professional choices with personal values.
#6 Personal and Professional Balance is What You Make It:
We got many interesting perspectives on finding balance throughout this series. “Balance” between one’s personal and professional life is never static.
Heather raised the bar for her career expectations because the opportunities had to be truly worthwhile for her time away from family. On the other hand, Alex found help in unconventional ways to pursue her career and lead an exceptionally full life.
The decisions that Nupur makes have been oriented around what she wants out of her life, and they are about having an impact on the world and making people’s lives better. Hence, she doesn’t view it as a sacrifice as much as a choice.
As we conclude this series, we want to thank all of the exceptional product leaders mentioned above for sharing their wisdom. Their insights on curiosity, self-belief, strategic thinking, and work-life balance serve as guidance for aspiring product leaders.
Listen to Episode 51 of the Path to CPO podcast to hear Elizabeth Ames, Rashmi Ramesh, and the Women In Product team discuss their favorite moments.