In the startup world, and especially in Product Management, a lot of focus is placed on rapid career growth, so I can see why you’re feeling pressure to take these growth opportunities when they’re offered to you. But it’s important to listen to your inner voice to make sure that you’re building the career that’s right for you. If you’re feeling reluctant to take a Director role, there’s most likely a reason why. Before you take the leap, I’d recommend digging deeper to better understand your reluctance and the role. Then you can make the decision that feels right for you. Here’s how I would approach “de-risking” this decision.
The first step is to take some time to explore why you’re feeling reluctant. I’d recommend using whatever method works best for you. You can find some quiet time with a journal or a whiteboard to write out all of your thoughts. If you think better out loud, you could find someone with whom you can talk it through (a friend, mentor or coach). List out all of the different reasons you’re feeling reluctant so you can figure out how they factor into your decision. For example, let’s say I did a brainstorm and these were the reasons I was feeling reluctant about a promotion to Director:
The first reason is not an uncommon thought for someone who is taking on a new opportunity. If I’m feeling this way I might remind myself:
The second two reasons are assumptions I’m making about the new role. The important thing here is to validate whether these assumptions are correct, and if they are, determine whether I’m willing to adjust to these shifts in my work and workload to take on this new opportunity.
Once you better understand why you’re feeling reluctant, a good next step is to get a better understanding of the role and to validate any assumptions you have about the opportunity. You can do this in a few ways:
Once you’ve understood your fears and the new role, the next step is to figure out what you want from your next role and from your career. I’d recommend writing down what your personal and career goals are for the near term (6-12 months) and medium/long term (5-10 years). Where do you want to be? What’s important to you? What’s not important to you?
Once you’ve mapped out your goals, you can compare them to what you’ve learned about the role and ask yourself if the two align. Will taking a Director role put you on the path to where you want to be 5-10 years from now? Does the role align with what’s important to you?
You might decide that what you enjoy most is working on the front lines with a team delivering great products. In that case you may be more interested in exploring an Individual Contributor (IC) growth path where you can continue to develop your expertise but maintain your focus on building products.
What if you want to invest more time in your life outside of work, and work/life balance is your top priority? In this case, taking on a Director role that will require a heavier time investment from you might not be the right fit.
Or maybe you see yourself building a career as a product leader and working as a CPO in the next 5-10 years. In that case taking on a role with increased scope and responsibility will put you on that path and the Director role might be the right move.
As you think through whether or not to take on a Director role, the most important thing to remember is that there is no SINGLE perfect career or growth path that everyone should follow. The right path for you is the one that allows you to achieve both your personal and professional goals. And don’t forget, no decision is forever. If you take a Director role and realize you don’t love it, you can always find a new role and path that’s a better fit for you.
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