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Why You Should Hire a Product Leader as Your Next Chief of Staff
Hiring a Chief of Staff? You've probably never considered hiring a product leader, yet we're seeing increased demand for the Chief of Staff role from these candidates in the Right Hand talent pool.
In this post, we'll explore why organizations should consider hiring product leaders as their next Chief of Staff, drawing from the experiences of product leaders who have made the transition successfully, or are eyeing their next play. We'll also discuss the benefits of hiring a product leader, as well as some of the challenges and opportunities that come with it. Let's dive into the ever-evolving role of the Chief of Staff and why product leaders might just be the perfect fit for this vital position.
First things first, let's establish that the role of a Chief of Staff isn't set in stone. It's fluid, and it's been transforming over time. This role has grown beyond just supporting the CEO to becoming a strategic partner in driving the company's success. The unique mix of skills required for a Chief of Staff is why product leaders are taking center stage.
Why Product Leaders Make Exceptional Chiefs of Staff
They’re strategic thinkers
Product leaders are always juggling priorities and making tough calls; they're strategic thinkers by nature. They've honed the art of balancing short-term and long-term goals, evaluating risks and opportunities, and making data-driven decisions. As Chiefs of Staff, this strategic mindset is invaluable when partnering with CEOs and other executives.
Product leaders also understand the importance of setting ambitious, yet achievable objectives. They are adept at assessing the competitive landscape, identifying gaps in the market, and capitalizing on unique selling propositions. This strategic acumen allows them to provide valuable insights and recommendations to the CEO, helping shape the company's direction and growth.
Consider the story of a product leader who transitioned to a Chief of Staff role at a Series A marketplace -- they helped roll out the company's first strategic planning process. This individual also took on the bulk of business development responsibilities, including owning the roadmap, building a subscription model from scratch, and establishing the operating rhythm for the company.
Another product leader at a Series A startup successfully transitioned the company's business to a SaaS model while managing the go-to-market process. These experiences demonstrate the strategic thinking and execution capabilities that product leaders bring to the table.
They’ve built and led teams
A Chief of Staff can be responsible for building and leading teams across the organization (often these are within Ops, People, and Finance), and product leaders have ample experience in this area. They have managed teams of designers, engineers, and product managers, often in high-growth environments.
One product leader who joined a startup as the first product hire was responsible for building out the product team over the course of 1.5 years, eventually leading a cross-functional team that included engineers and designers.
Another product leader with a background in software engineering transitioned into technical product management and eventually moved into a Chief of Staff role, where they were responsible for program management across the organization. This individual built multiple departments, introduced and managed goals, KPIs, and Looker dashboards, and was heavily involved in recruiting, experience which translates well into the Chief of Staff role.
They’re cross-functional experts by nature
Product leaders have a knack for collaborating with diverse teams and departments. They've got their fingers on the pulse of the entire organization, and they know how to rally the troops to work together towards a common goal. As Chiefs of Staff, they can leverage these cross-functional skills to align the organization and drive initiatives that matter.
A product leader's experience in working with engineering, design, marketing, sales, and customer success teams provides them with a holistic understanding of the business. This comprehensive view enables them to serve as a bridge between different departments, ensuring smooth communication and collaboration. As Chiefs of Staff, they can facilitate cross-functional projects and help break down silos within the organization.
They’re flexible and adaptable
If there's one thing product leaders know well, it's how to roll with the punches. They've navigated the ups and downs of product development, customer needs, and market trends, and they're no strangers to change. This flexibility and adaptability make them excellent candidates for the Chief of Staff role, where they'll be able to support the executive team through all kinds of challenges and opportunities.
Product leaders are used to dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. They can quickly adapt to new situations, pivot their approach when needed, and stay focused on the bigger picture. This ability to remain agile and responsive is crucial for a Chief of Staff, who must be prepared to tackle unforeseen obstacles and capitalize on new opportunities as they arise.
They are the “Voice of the Employee”
Product leaders have a unique vantage point within an organization, thanks to their close collaboration with various teams. They can identify potential issues, raise concerns, and help create a supportive work environment that fosters employee satisfaction and performance.
Further, they can facilitate open and transparent communication, promote a culture of trust and accountability, and drive initiatives that improve employee engagement and well-being. As Chiefs of Staff, product leaders can champion employee needs and interests at the executive level.
They can navigate change and transition
Last but definitely not least, product leaders have a proven track record of managing change and transition. Whether it's launching new products, implementing new processes, or scaling up the team, they've been there and done that.
Generally speaking, product leaders excel at managing change, as they are skilled at anticipating potential roadblocks and developing actionable plans to overcome them. This expertise is particularly valuable during periods of rapid growth, mergers and acquisitions, or significant market shifts, and makes them well-equipped to handle the challenges and opportunities that come with being a Chief of Staff in a dynamic organization.
They default to data-driven decision making
Product leaders are well-versed in using data to drive their decision-making processes. They know the importance of gathering and analyzing relevant data to make informed choices that align with the company's goals.
By leveraging their analytical skills and expertise in using data, product leaders can help identify trends, patterns, and opportunities that may not be immediately obvious. As Chiefs of Staff, they can apply this data-driven mindset and provide actionable insights and recommendations that enable the executive team to make more informed decisions.
They have a customer-centric mindset
At the core of every successful product leader is a customer-centric mindset. They understand the importance of putting the customer first, empathizing with their needs, and working relentlessly to deliver exceptional experiences. This customer-centric approach is a valuable asset when transitioning into the Chief of Staff role, as it helps ensure that the organization remains focused on delivering value to its customers.
Given that the Chief of Staff is (in many ways) the culture standard bearer at the organization, they can help drive this customer-centric culture and ensure that it permeates every aspect of the business.
It's clear that product leaders possess a unique combination of skills and expertise that make them ideal candidates for the Chief of Staff role. From strategic thinking and cross-functional collaboration to flexibility, adaptability, and a customer-centric mindset, they are well-equipped to support the CEO and executive team in driving the organization's success.
If you're considering hiring a Chief of Staff, don't overlook the talented product leaders within your organization or the broader market. They might just be the strategic partner your executive team needs to propel your business to new heights. And if you're a product leader considering a career move, the Chief of Staff role could be an exciting opportunity to leverage your skills and make a significant impact on your organization in a new way.
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