4DX – Introduction

From the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution.”


Any initiative falls into one of two categories: stroke-of-the-pen OR behavior change.

Stroke-of-the-pen strategies are executed by an order or authorizing them. If you have the money and authority, you can make them happen. Buying a new firewall, giving someone a raise, realigning responsibilities. These may require planning, consensus, and money, you know it will happen.

Behavioral-change strategies are different; you can’t just order them to happen, because executing requires getting people—often a lot of people—to do something different.

Many stroke-of-the-pen strategies evolve and require behavioral change. If it requires people to do something different, you are driving a behavioral-change strategy and it’s going to be hard.

A leader may assume people are the problem since they are ones not doing what needs to be done. Wrong.

When most people behave a certain way most of the time, people are not the problem. The problem is inherent in the system. As a leader, you own responsibility for the system.

To achieve a goal you have never achieved before, you must start doing things you have never done before.

Jim Stuart – FranklinCovey Execution Consultant


The real enemy of execution is your day job, the whirlwind of everyday activity and the massive amount of energy it requires to keep things going. The whirlwind robs from you the focus required to move your team forward.

The whirlwind and strategic goals are both necessary, but they are clearly different and compete for time, resources, energy, and attention.

The whirlwind is urgent and acts on you every minute of every day. The goals you’ve set for moving forward are important, but urgency beats important every time. Once you are aware of the struggle you will see it playing out everywhere, in any team trying to execute anything new.

Important goals that require you to do new and different things often conflict with the “whirlwind” of the day job, made up of urgencies that consume your time and energy.

Executing in spite of the whirlwind means overcoming its powerful distraction and the inertia of “the way it’s always been done.” The whirlwind is not bad, it keeps things operating. If you ignore the urgent it can kill you today. If you ignore the important, it can kill you tomorrow. The challenge is executing your most important goals in the midst of the urgent!

Bottom line: if you are going to create significant results you will eventually have to execute a behavioral-change strategy, and in doing so you will be battling the whirlwind. Here’s how to do that.

1. Focus on the Wildly Important

The more you try to do, the less you actually accomplish. FOCUS is a natural principal. The sun’s scattered rays support everyday life, but focus them with a magnifying glass and you can start a fire! Once collective energy is focused on a challenge, there is little they cannot do.

FOCUS is the first discipline.

Discipline 1: Focus on the wildly important. This means going against your basic wiring as a leader and focus on less so your team can achieve more. Select one (or two, but really one) extremely important goal. It’s the wildly important goal (WIG), making it clear to the team this is the goal that matters most. Failure to achieve it makes every other accomplishment seem secondary, or even inconsequential.

Narrowing the focus of your team to one or two wildly important goals provides clarity to the team; they can easily distinguish what is the top priority and what is the whirlwind. They move from a loosely defined and difficult-to-communicate collection of objectives to a small, focused set of achievable targets. Discipline 1 is the discipline of focus.

2. Act on the Lead Measures

This is the discipline of leverage. All actions are not created equal, some have more impact than others toward a goal. Obviously it is those that you want to identify and act on to reach your goal.

Progress and success are based on two kinds of measures: lag and lead.

Lag measures track measures of the goal, and they are the ones most people usually follow. Customer satisfaction, return, profit are all lag measures, meaning when you get them, the performance that drove them is already in the past. It’s history, you can’t fix them.

Lead measures are different in that they measure the most high-impact things your team must do to reach the goal. In essence, they measure the new behaviors that will drive success on the lag measures.

The lead measure can be predicted to move the goal, and can be influenced by the team.

A good lead measure has to basic characteristics: It’s predictive of achieving the goal and it can be influenced by the team members. For example, a lag measure of losing weight is pounds lost. Two lead measures might be a lower caloric intake and a specific number of hours of exercise per week. These lead measures are predictive because by performing them, you can predict what the scale (lag measure) will tell you next week. They are influenceable because both of these hew behaviors are within your control.

Acting on the lead measures is one of the little-known secrets of execution. Lag measures are ultimately the most important things you want to accomplish, but most leaders are so focused on them that shifting to lead measures feels counterintuitive. But once you identify lead measures, they become the key leverage points for achieving your goal.

3. Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

Watch any group playing basketball and see how the game changes when they start keeping score. But don’t miss this point: People play differently when they are keeping score. It’s not about you keeping score for them.

Discipline 3 is the discipline of engagement. High performance is tied to emotional engagement, and the highest level of engagement comes from knowing the score—if they are winning or losing. It’s that simple.

To drive the highest levels of engagement, the scoreboard should be designed solely for (and often by) the players. It must be simple, so simple that members of the team can determine instantly if they are winning or losing. If the scoreboard isn’t clear, the game will be abandoned in the whirlwind of other activities.

Team members can determine instantly if they are winning or losing.

4. Create a Cadence of Accountability

Discipline 4 is where execution really happens. The first three set up the game, but until you apply 4 your team isn’t in the game. It is based on the principle of accountability: that unless we consistently hold each other accountable, the goal disintegrates in the whirlwind.

The cadence of accountability is a rhythm of regular and frequent meetings of any team that owns a WIG. These meetings happen at least weekly and ideally last no more than twenty to thirty minutes. In that time, team members hold each other accountable for producing results, despite the whirlwind.

The magic is the cadence. Team members must be able to hold each other accountable regularly and rhythmically. Each week, one by one, team members answer a simple question: “What are the one or two most important things I can do in the next week (outside the whirlwind) that will have the biggest impact on the scoreboard?” Then members report on whether they met the previous week’s commitments, how well they are moving the lead and lag measures on the scoreboard, and their commitments for the coming week, all in only a few minutes.

The secret here is that team members create their own commitments. It’s common to find teams where the members expect, even want, simply to be told what to do. However, because they make their own commitments, their ownership of them increases. Team members will always be more committed to their own ideas than they will to orders from above. Even more important, making commitments to their team members, rather than solely to the boss, shifts the emphasis from professional to personal. The commitments go beyond their job performance and become promises to the team.

Because the team sets weekly objectives, the plan adapts as fast as business changes. Energy is directed to the WIG without getting blocked by the whirlwind of change around them.

When your team begins to see the lag measure of a big goal moving as a direct result of their efforts, they will know they are winning. Nothing drives morale and engagement more than winning.

People want to win. They want to make a contribution that matters. However, an organization has to have the discipline—the conscious, consistent regimen needed to execute key goals with excellence. Nothing is more motivating than belonging to a team of people who know the goal and are determined to get there.

The 4 Disciplines are based on principles, Principles are timeless and self-evident, and they apply everywhere. They are natural laws, like gravity. Whether you understand them or even agree with them doesn’t matter—they still apply.

The challenge for leaders has been finding a way to implement them, especially when the whirlwind is raging.

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