The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

The 4 Disciplines of Execution: Achieving Your Wildly Important Goals

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Do you remember the last major initiative you watched die in your organization? Did it go down with a loud crash? Or was it slowly and quietly suffocated by other competing priorities? By the time it finally disappeared, it’s likely not one even noticed. What happened?

Often, the answer is that the “whirlwind” of urgent activity required to keep things running day-to-day devoured all the time and energy you needed to invest in executing your strategy for tomorrow. The 4 Disciplines of Execution can change that forever.

The 4 Disciplines of Execution(4DX) is a simple, repeatable, and proven formula for executing your most important strategic priorities in the midst of the whirlwind. By following the 4 Disciplines — Focus on the Wildly Important; Act on Lead Measures; Keep a Compelling Scoreboard; Create a Cadence of Accountability — leaders can produce breakthrough results, even when executing the strategy requires a significant change in behavior from their teams.

4DX is not theory. It is a proven set of practices that have been tested and refined by hundreds of organizations and thousands of teams over many years. When a company or an individual adheres to these disciplines, they achieve superb results, regardless of the goal. 4DX represents a new way to think and work that is essential to thriving in today’s competitive climate.The 4 Disciplines of Execution is one book that no business leader can afford to miss.

Related: The 7 habits of Highly Effective People PDF


I bought and read The 4 Disciplines of Execution in January of 2017 because Cal Newton gave it high praise in his book, Deep Work. At first glance, I thought it was some of the same old, same old. I waited more than six months before writing my review because I wanted to see if what was in the book really worked. It does, even though, at first glance it looks like old wine between new covers.

What’s in The Book

The authors identify four core disciplines that can combine to make any individual or team more effective. The disciplines are focus, leverage, engagement, and accountability. Here’s a little bit more about each one of them and why my initial impression was that there wasn’t much new in this book.

Discipline 1 is about focusing on wildly important goals. Well, of course. People who use goals to guide their behavior and practice some form of essentialism and zero in on the most important goals certainly will do better. It didn’t seem like there was much new here.

Discipline 2 is to leverage your lead measures. I first learned about the power of lead measures working with my friend Stephen Lynch on his book, Business Execution for RESULTS. Stephen demonstrated the power of lead measures (the acts you do to drive results) and how concentrating on them is more likely to make your results come out right. It seemed like I knew that, so what could be new here?

Discipline 3 is boost engagement by having employees keep score. This one may not be obvious to everyone, but I’ve been keeping score in one form or another for half a century. I track my daily work and results. I attach them to a simple score sheet. So, I figured I had this one. There was a new wrinkle, though, and that was the purpose of a visual scoreboard and how it’s a great way to keep track of how you’re doing.

Discipline 4 is accountability. Well, of course. If you’re leading a team, you must hold people accountable for their behavior and their results. If you’re tracking things for yourself, you should hold yourself accountable and not fudge. That seemed obvious, too.

Related: First Things First PDF by Stephen R. Covey

If you looked at the table of contents for the book or poked around a bit inside it, you may have come to the same conclusion I did and you and I would both be right. There’s not much new here if all you consider are the individual disciplines. Concentrating on your most important goals will help you improve your performance. Identifying and tracking your lead measures will definitely improve your performance. And, it’s always necessary to hold people accountable for their behavior and their performance. So, what’s different?

The System’s the Thing

If all this book was a description of the disciplines, it wouldn’t be much. But the book is about how to use those four disciplines as a system. When you use them together, you get a positive synergy. Any one of the four will improve your results. Using the four all together will improve your results dramatically.

My Proof Was in the Trying

When I read the book, I was impressed, but I wasn’t ready to give it a great review until I figured out if it worked. I knew the parts worked, it was the system I wasn’t sure of.

I had to make some adjustments in the way that I worked and the way that I tracked my performance based on what I read in The Four Disciplines of Execution. When I did that, two things happened. First, my overall results improved. Second, the time I was spending to get those results dropped. This stuff works.

How the Book Helps You

The writing in this book is clear and the examples are good, but there’s one “design feature” that I really liked. This book is divided into two parts. The first part identifies and explains the four disciplines and the basic system. The second part is about how to put the system into action. This helped me and it would have helped me even more if I had a team that I was going to apply this with.

Bottom Line

The material in this book can make a difference in your performance, your team’s performance, and your overall quality of work life. But beware: you’ve got to do the work and it won’t be easy.

The hard part isn’t understanding the concepts. The hard part is breaking some habits and changing some procedures and maintaining energy while you work through those changes. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t buy the book.

The second important point is that the book is about a system. You can adopt any one of the four disciplines, or improve the way you handle each one, but to get the best results, you’ve got to use them all in a coordinated way. If you’re not willing to do that, don’t buy the book.

One more thing. This book is not about principles or secrets or magic of any kind. It’s about disciplines. That’s good because it means that people like you and like me can make it work. It will take work and, well, discipline, but we can make it work.

If you are willing to do the work and take the time and make the changes, The Four Disciplines of Execution is a book that will help you make a dramatic improvement in your performance and your quality of work life.


“ The 4 Disciplines of Execution offers more than theories for making strategic organizational change. The authors explain not only the ‘what’ but also ‘how’ effective execution is achieved. They share numerous examples of companies that have done just that, not once, but over and over again. This is a book that every leader should read! “
—Clayton Christensen, Professor, Harvard Business School, and author of The Innovator’s Dilemma

“What Six Sigma and Lean are to manufacturing, The 4 Disciplines of Execution is to executing your strategy. 4DX is a practical methodology that can solve every leader’s # 1 challenge: execution. ” – Ram Charan, Co-Author of the Best Selling Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done and the au

“Many of the foundational values ​​of Marriott are embodied within The 4 Disciplines of Execution. By utilizing this process inside our organization, our leaders and teams have been able to set and achieve extraordinary goals, which have had a significant impact on making ‘Our Guests’ Experience’ truly remarkable. Any organization can create these same kinds of breakthrough results if they apply the principles and processes taught in this book! ” – JW Marriott, Jr, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Marriott International, Inc.

“The State of Georgia had unprecedented success as a result of implementing the principles outlined in The 4 Disciplines of Execution. We certified hundreds of leaders to take the disciplines to every department, achieving unprecedented results in customer service, quality improvement, and cost reduction. These execution principles are a must for any government agency that is seeking to be world class. ” – The Honorable Sonny Perdue, Governor of Georgia, 2003-2011

“Customers are loyal to a brand when they can trust it to deliver a consistently outstanding experience. This requires the commitment of everyone up and down the organization to innovate new ways to economically delight customers, so they become promoters. The 4 Disciplines of Executionoffers a proven process for engaging the hearts and minds of every employee toward this vital goal. I highly recommend this book to any leader committed to making customer loyalty a mission-critical goal. ” – Fred Reichheld, Bain Fellow, Inventor of the Net Promoter® System and author of: The Ultimate Question 2.0

“In a business world where the essence of leadership centers around strategy, this book highlights the true requirements of any organization to focus on the principles of execution. At The Ritz-Carlton, I believe the only way to strengthen operational excellence is through flawless execution. The application of Focus, Leverage, Engagement and Accountability, as discussed in The 4 Disciplines of Execution,are key to our success and make exceptional reading for today’s business leaders. ” – Herve Humler, President and Chief Operations Officer, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company

“ The 4 Disciplines of Execution book contains principles and processes that do indeed work. I do believe that ‘execution excellence’ is the ultimate competitive differential of this decade. As we have partnered with FranklinCovey to apply the methodology and process globally throughout our organization, it has not only had a significant impact on our organization’s business results, but it has been transformational for me as a leader, both personally and professionally. ” – Jeff Simmons, President, Elanco Animal Health, Eli Lilly and Company

“We believe thatThe 4 Disciplines of Execution are the keys to growth and success. For years we have struggled with creating focus for our people. We have used priority sheets, standards of performance measures, and others. We have fallen in love with the concepts of “whirlwinds and WIG!” When you read this book you will never look at work, or life, the same! ” – Danny Wegman, Chief Executive Officer, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc., # 1 on Fortune magazine’s 2005 list

“The 4 Disciplines’ practical guidance on goal-setting and measurement resonates with groups of all levels in our organization. Many teams have applied this intuitive approach to build engagement and increase execution and accountability. ” – Dave Dillon, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Kroger Co.

“The 4 Disciplines of Execution helps leaders, teams, and front line employees to narrow their focus and spend their time executing those things that will bring the highest return for their organization and customers. This book is a must read for any leader who wants to achieve that which is extraordinary in their company! ” – Diana Thomas, US Vice President of Training and Learning Development, Hamburger University, McDonalds Corporation

About the Author

Chris McChesney is the Global Practice Leader of Execution for FranklinCovey and one of the primary developers of The 4 Disciplines of Execution. For more than a decade, he has led FranklinCovey’s ongoing design and development of these principles, as well as the consulting organization that has achieved extraordinary growth in many countries around the globe and impacted hundreds of organizations.

Sean Covey, Executive Vice President of Innovation for FranklinCovey Corp., is author of the international bestseller  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, having sold more than 4 million copies and translated into more than twenty languages. As director of FranklinCovey’s education practice, he directed the development project that produced the 4 Disciplines of Execution and teaches transformative strategy and execution to education leaders. An MBA from Harvard, He is the son of Dr. Stephen R. Covey, author of HE 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. 

Jim Huling is the Managing Consultant for FranklinCovey’s the 4 Disciplines of Execution. Jim’s career spans more than three decades of corporate leadership, from Fortune 500 organizations to privately held companies, including serving as CEO of a company recognized as one of the “25 Best Companies to Work for in America.”

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