Becoming a Director


It finally happened. You worked so hard to get to this next level of management, a Director. You’re now in charge of a larger team with responsibilities across the company. This next chapter seems exciting but scary at the same time. As the way we work evolves, a few tried and true methods remain to help you grow into this next level of leadership.

Doubt everything, just not yourself. I cannot stress this enough. Even more so than you’ve experienced in the past, you will be in an environment of ideas, advice, and demands. Some of these will be your own. It’s okay to doubt these. Ask questions of them. Create a mental model on how to approach decisions. Don’t confuse that doubt by challenging yourself. It’s a slippery road from stating your idea could be better, or your counterpoint needs to be stronger to saying you could be better or stronger. Everyone around you is also a work in progress. They, too, are learning from experience and mistakes. They may have had more hours than you on specific topics that give the appearance of wisdom.

Lift people up, make ideas better. As a leader, you will accomplish much more with the team than alone. Challenge individuals you work with. Help them find ways to leverage their strengths. When you hear an idea, the default response should be a way to make it even better. That doesn’t mean all ideas can be.

Build Eigenvector Networks. Until now, you have focused on developing strong relationships within your team. In your new role, the expectation will require you to create alignment partnerships and sometimes remove roadblocks across team lines. You need to expand your network outside of your current core group. There is an algorithm called Eigenvector Centrality that measures a network’s influence. One of the insights is that loose networks, such as a friend of a friend or acquaintance, introduce you to novel knowledge and experiences. Your close-knit friend circle tends to reinforce current beliefs. Forming these relationships will help you influence an organization better than cold intros and conversations.

Position Decisions. More than ever, the team will look to you for decisions. Strive to position decisions so that (a) made quickly, (b) made clear, (c) and communicated. There will be times when you need clarification or it’s not the right time. Even in those situations, position it. “We will make the call when X happens, which should be Y from now because Z.” This will be enough to satisfy the team, even if they disagree. The worst decision is the one where you let it happen to you.

Understand the end customer, market, and business. Your team enables other products that generate revenue for the company. How those products generate revenue is a constant flow. How the company looks at the market will change year over year. Know that the company will review budgets quarterly but base the next fiscal year’s forecast on October’s review. While you may not be a decision-maker for the revenue opportunities for the company, understanding them will help you position your decisions.

Play the game your way. Inevitably, a leader will have a moment where they decide their ideals will lead the way for the team. They won’t play the political game happening in the company. While noble, the result will be that their influence and impact will be limited. It’s essential to understand the system you are in. Who partners with whom? How are decisions made? What are people’s biases? What existing relationships could be leveraged? These are not codified rules. They do exist and shape how things get done. Use that knowledge to help put ideas into motion, even those that could change the system.

Expectations over exactness. You love to do. You have the skills and the know-how. It’s only sometimes your place. Sometimes, you have to let go and delegate. Delegation creates growth opportunities and enables speed of execution. Based on who you give it to, ensure you have some confidence and provide your expectations. Don’t leave it up for assumptions.

Compression of ideas. Organizations and products are highly complex systems. As much as everyone wants to know every little excruciating painful detail, that’s not where you must start. Learn to compress ideas into small, digestible chunks. Ones that you could easily repeat in a few minutes or less. Beginning with this, you anchor everyone on the core idea before diving deep. There are always going to be debates on the details. That’s when you can step back and reinforce that everyone is aligned on the core idea. The compressed ideas are scalable from your direct team, customers, and executives.

Learn to sell. You’re now a leader of a vital organization. You need to be able to influence those outside your direct management. Yes, you have Product Management. Yes, you have DevRel. Yes, you have Glenn and Michael. You still need to sell, instill confidence, and demonstrate you can deliver. Learn from those around you. See how they pitch ideas. See how they build a rapport to change minds.

Outcomes, outputs, and processes. There are many memes out there like Outcomes over outputs or processes over outcomes. The reality is that it all matters. You need to make an impact through outcomes. You need to produce to get to those outcomes. Last, you need processes to help your team work effectively to create outputs. Know your system and tune and tweak it to keep the ship running. If you pick a lane, then determine effectiveness over efficiency. The former ensures you and the team are working on the right things. The latter creates friction.

You are a steward. You’re in a position of authority. One of influence. Your team and others view that as ways their causes can be amplified. Don’t ingnore this. Listen to them and understand their needs. Where you can, be their voice. Not because they are not speaking but because you can be heard from your position. It’ll give a cause a chance. It will make them feel as if someone stood up for them.