What has been the most surprising thing about being a Director that you only realized after you were promoted?
Leveling up to Dr level meant being a point of contact for many people at the company, which meant more inquiries from sales, customers, leadership, and other product teams. Since I got promoted, my inbox and # of slack messages doubled :)
My learning from this experience is that you want to document as much of the process as possible so people outside of your team can find SMEs and relevant information for your area.
Many promotions happen because the person was already performing and showing up as being at the next level. Depending on the company, the Director role marks a clearer line between individual contributor roles and management roles. However, unless the promotion is accompanied by a significant change in scope or new formal reporting lines into the role, perhaps the most surprising thing is that much else remains the same. You might now be on some additional distribution lists for Directors and above, but most of that is also related to people-management.
The work keeps getting more and more ambiguous the more senior you become. You have to take initiative to stay connected across the company, keep a pulse of the market/news to ensure you are able to guide the work of your teams. It becomes less about working on a specific project but more about ensuring we are pumping resources on the right projects. It is equally important to prune the work as much as to add more.
I think I intuitively knew this, but the amount of time one ends up spending on trying to improve communication between different individuals and teams in the organization increases dramatically as you become a more senior leader. Much of this work happens behind the scenes and is hidden from ICs. It can involve anything from the coaching that you do with your team to improve their communication to the cajoling (and yes, sometimes threatening) that you need to conduct with other functions like engineering, design or marketing, or even other PM teams to improve their interactions with your team.
Spending a lot of time thinking about organization design, what work to delegate to whom and for what reason, constantly evaluating your own team and their strengths & weaknesses -- if you don't enjoy doing these things and seeing your impact chiefly through other people, you probably won't enjoy being a leader of PMs.
The most surprising aspect of transitioning from a Product Manager to a Director role was the significant shift in the nature of customer feedback I encountered. While I appreciated gaining more context and visibility at the strategic level, I found that my interactions with customers became predominantly centered around escalations and resolving issues. This contrasted with my previous experiences, where I often heard a balance of positive feedback alongside the challenges. Adjusting to this change meant focusing more on problem-solving at a higher level, though it also underscored the importance of maintaining a connection to the broader customer experience, beyond just their pain points.