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August 10, 2023 1 Min Read

Confluent Leadership Principle #3: Prioritize Ruthlessly

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There is a natural force of entropy in any organization. Over time a team accumulates more scattered responsibilities, processes, and projects, and as this happens, each thing it does has a little less focus and tends to get sloppier and slower as a result. The job of a leader is to stand against this natural drift towards mediocrity and drive it back!


The best leaders are continually asking for fewer things done better. They are willing to make hard choices to prioritize and cut the inessential efforts in order to accelerate or improve the most essential efforts.


This starts with an understanding of what really matters. They can help to develop this by asking provocative questions to themselves, their team, and the larger organization:

  • “Is this really the highest priority project/initiative/opportunity?”

  • “What’s really the most important thing in this area?”

  •  “Is this an effort/process/project we could stop doing?”


The best leaders are able to ask these questions in a friendly, provocative way to help their teams find focus and help make them better, faster, and happier. For us to focus globally, teams focus must also line up with the company’s overall strategy. After all, if each team decides to prioritize something different, then even though each team is “focusing”, as a company we are doing the opposite. This may require broader discussion or even escalation to really get agreement on the right tradeoffs, but doing that hard work is how leaders clear the deck for rapid execution and high-quality output.


The “ruthlessly” bit is there for a reason: this will involve hard trade-offs. After all, nothing we are working on today is likely a wholly bad idea. Your role will be to help the team cut good things so you can prioritize great things. To do this without pain it is helpful to think comparatively rather than in absolutes: “Is opportunity X better than opportunity Y” not “Is opportunity X a bad idea.”


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Reprinted with permission from Confluent, 2023

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