How Parenthood Shapes Exceptional Product Leadership

A lesson from our children
I’ve often been asked about the factors that help make a great leader of teams, coach or Chief Product Officer. Experience in shipping products end to end, understanding users, data and analytics, the software development lifecycle – these are all fundamentals. But these are also the general requirements of any half decent product manager.

While there are countless experiences and lessons that have shaped my journey, one that stands out as a game-changer is parenthood.

My own childhood experiences were very different from the loving and nurturing environment my daughter (14) and son (nearly 16) find themselves immersed in from their parents. I did not ever imagine I would have children so they have been an incredible blessing in my life and the best decision hands down I’ve ever made.

Recently, as they are growing into young adults I’ve realised that over the last sixteen years my kids have played a huge role in shaping how I run teams, communicate, think and treat people. Parenthood has made me a better product leader, and I’m here to explain why.

Patience and Resilience

Parenthood teaches us to be patient and resilient in the face of challenges. Whether it’s a sleepless night with a teething baby or navigating the turbulent waters of a teenager’s emotions, we learn to stay calm and composed in the most trying circumstances. These same skills are invaluable in the business world. Patience is essential for understanding that not every product launch will go smoothly. The ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry is crucial for product leaders. Most launches are fraught with stress and things often go wrong. I can recall countless times where patience has been rewarded with better outcomes by being able to calm the nerves of the team.

Susan Wojcicki, the previous CEO of YouTube, is a mother of five. She has often shared how her experiences as a parent have shaped her leadership style, making her more patient and resilient in her role.

Empathy and Understanding

Raising children teaches us empathy and the ability to understand the needs and emotions of others. This skill is directly applicable to leading diverse teams, understanding customer needs, and building products that truly resonate with users. Empathising with your team and your customers can lead to better decision-making and more user-centric products. Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, has often spoken about how becoming a parent enhanced his ability to relate to Google’s global user base. This has informed Google’s approach to creating products that cater to diverse audiences worldwide. Being able to empathise with your team is crucial in being a leader – in addition leading by example (something I try hard to with my kids!) is a sure-fire way to rally the troops and gain respect in your organisation.

Time Management and Prioritisation

Balancing a demanding career with the responsibilities of parenthood requires excellent time management and prioritisation skills (no shit!). Juggling school drop-offs, meetings, and football games forces you to become highly efficient and focused on what truly matters. These skills translate well into product leadership, where prioritising features, deadlines, and resource allocation is essential for success. Marissa Mayer, former CEO of Yahoo and a mother of three, has been praised for her time management skills. She often attributed her ability to lead effectively to the lessons she learned as a parent. As a parent you’re always time poor – often in startups the lack of a long runway mirrors this situation leading to a natural way of focussing on what can deliver better outcomes.

Communication and Conflict Resolution

Parenting involves navigating conflicts and finding effective ways to communicate with children, who often have different perspectives and needs. These experiences build strong interpersonal skills, which are invaluable in managing and leading teams. Great product leaders excel in communication and are skilled at resolving conflicts to maintain a harmonious work environment. I have noticed that over the years being able to have difficult conversations in a calm and measured manner has worked wonders for conflict resolution. This is how I approach discussing difficult issues with my kids – I listen and remain calm and when I need to make impact it is far more weighted than if I was to engage in a pointless argument.

Vision and Long-Term Thinking

Finally, parenthood encourages us to think about the future and make decisions that will benefit our children in the long run. This ability to think long-term and set a vision is essential for product leaders, who must guide their teams toward achieving ambitious goals and creating products that stand the test of time. Much like a product roadmap, nothing in your children’s lives is set in stone and you’ll have to constantly pivot. Managing children’s lives teaches understanding in prioritising and changing course when needed in product development.

Closing Thoughts

As I’ve grown as a parent I’ve realised how much this has really helped guide teams in their company goals but also their personal growth. Just as I see my children moving away from their nest now and spreading their wings, the same could be said for those wonderful people you manage at work. It is likely that they will go on to work elsewhere but make the time you spend with them memorable. All of the wonderful things I’ve mentioned above will be appreciated more than you can imagine in the people and teams that you run.

Parenthood isn’t a hindrance to success; it’s a powerful catalyst for becoming an extraordinary product leader. So, to all the parents out there aspiring to excel in their careers, remember that the lessons learned from parenting can help you become the incredible leader you aspire to be.