We recently sat down with Plaid Head of Consumer Product, Jonathan Chao, to discuss how to be a great product leader that inspires confidence in their team! He talked about what he loves about the job, how he leads, and what he can do to build up his team.

Product Leaders have the task of doing many things well and require great leadership qualities. Jonathan Chao’s perspective on the position is quite refreshing. Here’s what he had to say on Product Talk.

On what attracted him to Product Management in the first place

Who wouldn’t want to follow a Product Leader who feels this way about their job?!

“I think there’s something about product, where you can be at the hub of the search for the underlying truth in why a problem is important enough for other people to care about,” said Chao. “When it’s going well, you can kind of see and feel the things just start magnetizing towards the benefit for your team, your partners, your company, and ultimately the people you’re able to reach with the work of everyone involved. 

I think that rush the day after product launch, where the metrics are coming in, and people are discovering how it’s doing and learning. It’s just so addicting. I just love that. I’ll never get tired of that.”

On what his superpower is as a Product Leader

This is the sweetest, most wholesome answer to this question. 

“My ability to choose to be hopeful. It allows me to find a creative way out of all the problems that come. As you work with different people, there are various different hesitations. I think product inherently is a role where you have to take a leap of faith. All the different concerns or immediate issues or metrics can easily drown people. 

At the end of the day, the choice to be hopeful can help turn charged issues with immediate consequences into a safe space and into a game of chess where everyone can plan several moves ahead. I think that’s ultimately how I think I’ve been able to drive impact in the face of many different challenges.”

On how to inspire confidence 

On Product Talk, Chao shares specific examples of how he gained this wisdom.

“I think in the product role, you have the opportunity to create environments around you that help others feel confident. If they feel safe, then they can be creative and, ultimately, that’s how you get to the best answer. It’s the diversity of thought. Having a space where challenges can come up and be heard and listened to, and voicing a dissenting opinion isn’t going to take everything. It’s that sort of confidence that I think ultimately leads to the best products.”

On why being confident doesn’t mean being right

Whether you’re a Product Manager or a person, this is very sound advice.

“This one took me a while and I had to do some soul searching to figure it out. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you’re right if no one’s gonna listen to you. I think being right doesn’t mean the same thing as having impact. At the end of the day, what really matters is your ability to affect people for the better. So if you kind of can start from the lens of impact and work backward, you kind of start sensing that your own feeling of being right is just not important. 

Everyone’s right in their own way. You have to understand other people’s point of view first. It’s actually the product manager’s role to be the first person to empathize and understand the other person. It’s not their job to understand you.”

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About the Speaker
Jonathan Chao
Plaid Head of Consumer Product
Jonathan Chao found his way into product management in 2015 after what he thought was his dream job as a consultant for pension funds. He’s currently the Head of Consumer Product at Plaid, which brings the benefits of financial technology to consumers by helping people connect their banks to their apps such as Venmo. Prior to that, Chao served as the Director of Product Management at Credit Karma.

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