4 Disciplines of Execution book summary and PDF

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney [Book Summary & PDF]

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney is an excellent guide to removing the distractions of the day-to-day tasks in your day job and being able to focus on ‘Wildly Important Goals' and execute these excellently. Using real life examples such as the ever-successful Apple and Steve Jobs, McChesney produces a straightforward and actionable step-by-step guide that could transform the way you and your team work.

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INTRODUCTION

Who is this summary for?

The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney is an excellent guide to removing the distractions of the day-to-day tasks in your day job and being able to focus on ‘Wildly Important Goals' and execute these excellently. McChesney produces a straightforward and actionable step-by-step guide that could transform the way you and your team work. Great for anyone looking for a little bit of guidance in the workplace and particularly useful for anyone in a leadership position.

About the author

Chris McChesney began his career working with Stephen R. Covey within the Franklin Covey organisation. McChesney has dedicated his work to helping organisations achieve the results they are after by improving their execution. His book, The 4 Disciplines of Execution has been hugely successful and was a Wall Street Journal #1 National Best Seller. McChesney has become well known for his high-energy keynote speeches and presentations. McChesney lives with his wife and has seven children.

In this summary

As the title suggests, McChesney outlines what he considers to be the 4 most important disciplines for executing tasks and hitting goals. This summary will cover each of the 4 disciplines and discuss how they can be enacted. The first discipline we will cover is focusing on the wildly important. Discipline two covers acting on the lead measures followed by discipline three: keeping a compelling scoreboard. Finally, we’ll cover discipline four: creating a cadence of accountability.

BOOK SUMMARY

”One of the key reasons that 4 Disciplines of Execution works so powerfully is that it’s based on timeless, inviolable principles; and it’s proven to work with virtually any organisation in any environment.”

DISCIPLINE 1: FOCUS ON THE WILDLY IMPORTANT

McChesney’s first discipline is dedicated to focusing all of your attention and effort on only the things that are wildly important. By selecting only one or two key goals, and dedicating all of your energy to those you are destined to have greater success and executer better than if you were trying to spread yourself too thin across too many things. McChesney explains that focus is the starting point for execution. You need to learn where your focus is before you can move forward.

”Discipline 1 is about applying more energy against fewer goals because, when it comes to setting goals, the law of diminishing returns is as real as the law of gravity.”

One at a time

McChesney explains that as humans, we are designed to be able to work on one thing at a time and excel at it. We are not designed to multi-task. Scientifically, our brains are designed to only truly focus on one thing at a time. As soon as you try to add more ‘focus points’ your vision becomes blurry and nothing will get your full attention.

Unfortunately, McChesney points out that the nature of our fast-paced society today encourages a culture of multitasking. We work hard at skimming, scanning, and multitasking. The skills used for reading, deep thought, and sustained concentration are not being practiced enough and we are losing our capacity to focus.

Wildly important goals

Although McChesney encourages you to have one wildly important goal at a time, he expresses the importance of being aware that you do have other priorities. It’s not about letting the rest go completely, just putting them to the side so you can focus on one at a time. These other goals are always going to remain on your radar, they just won’t be receiving your full attention at this time.

When you select a wildly important goal, you need to look for the goal you are willing to put all your effort into, to work on every single day and make difficult choices. The aim is to work on this goal with extreme diligence until it is completed and you have achieved what you were after.

Leaders

McChesney acknowledges that there tends to be more pressure placed on people to expand their goals rather than actually narrow them. The popular school of thought is that more goals and bigger goals are better. But the reality is that narrowing your focus is going to yield better results.

Leaders often express this issue as a result of continuously noticing things that need to be improved and recognising new opportunities regularly. Leaders often express a feeling of overwhelm with multiple things on their plate at once.

However, McChesney points out that the issue is the leader themselves. Although acknowledging issues and recognising opportunities is good and beneficial, it doesn’t mean you need to try and split your attention between all of these things at any one time. It’s still important to be aware of core priorities and identify the ones that need your attention the most.

Leaders, take note

McChesney identifies a few things that leaders should be aware of when managing their teams:

  1. If you are an ambitious or creative leader, then you are always going to do more. Consider that this could be why you push your team to take on too much work and feel overworked.
  2. Another issue that leaders often face is hedging their bets. In fearing failure, you encourage you team to try everything assuming that something may work. Instead of focusing on volume, get your team to focus all of their attention on one option, and know that you put everything into it. You’re more likely to find success this way.
  3. The prime issue that leaders face when trying to narrow goals is the struggle of rejecting good ideas. It feels unnatural for a leader to turn away opportunities that present themselves but McChesney explains that this is sometimes necessary if you want to pursue the RIGHT goals.

”As Stephen R. Covey says, “You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, unapologetically—to say no to other things. And the way you do that is by having a bigger ‘yes’ burning inside.”

Selecting your wildly important goals

”Narrow your focus to one or two wildly important goals and consistently invest the team’s time and energy into them. In other words, if you want high-focus, high-performance team members, they must have something wildly important to focus on.”

To determine what wildly important goal you (and your team) are going to focus on can be a difficult task. Sometimes, the answer will be obvious but at other times you will struggle to pick just one. McChesney explains that you’ll often feel bombarded with multiple ‘urgent priorities’ and it can be hard to narrow the focus down to just one.

McChesney explains that in your selection, it shouldn’t be about asking what the most important is. Instead, consider your current situation, the current level of performance your team is outputting and try to identify one area where change would have the most significant impact. If you can find that one area, then you’ve found your wildly important goal.

The goal will likely be one of two things. Either something that’s broken and needs to be fixed or be something new altogether, a new product or service perhaps.

Expanding this to an entire organisation

McChesney has focused on discussing goals in relation to a leader and a team, however, he also emphasises the importance of rolling this new discipline out to an entire organisation. The larger scale can be daunting but the rewards will be worth it. He has a few rules that he recommends you follow when trying to narrow the focus of an entire organisation:

  1. Each team has a MAXIMUM of 2 wildly important goals
  2. The battles you choose must win the war.
  3. Your senior leaders should not be dictators, but they have the power of veto.
  4. All wildly important goals need to have the following formula including a deadline: X & Y by Z.

”Discipline 1 takes the wildly important goal for an organization and breaks it down into a set of specific, measurable targets until every team has a wildly important goal that it can own. “

DISCIPLINE 2: ACT ON THE LEAD MEASURES

McChesney describes discipline 2 as the discipline of leverage, it’s about applying the majority of your energy, time and resources only to the activities that truly drive your lead measures. A lead measure is the ‘measure’ of all tasks that are directly related to achieving the defined goal. The aim of discipline 2 is to identify the tasks and actions that are most likely to help you and your team reach the goal.

Lag measures vs. lead measures.

McChesney defines a lag measure as an indicator of when you have achieved the goal. Whereas the lead measure will inform you of the likelihood of you reaching the goal. Lead measures are predictive and entirely within your control, and at any point, if you are informed that you are unlikely to reach your goal, you can do something about it. But by the time you reach the lag measure stage, it’s usually too late. You either have or haven’t achieved the goal. When a lead measure changes, it’s likely that the lag measure will be influenced.

McChesney uses a car breaking down to explain the two in a simpler way. How often your car breaks down is outside of your control, it is the lag measure. However, you can do something about maintaining your car and ensure that it gets done regularly. This is the lead measure. The more feedback you receive and act upon the lead measure, the less likely your car is to break down.

Break it down

It’s really important to establish what the most important actions to enable those lead measures are on a regular basis. Too often organisations establish long-term plans that are rigid. This doesn’t allow for the fluidity of projects that are constantly changing. By checking in daily or weekly, you give yourself and your team the ability to identify what needs to be done right now in order to drive the lead measures.

Unfortunately, McChesney points out that leaders spend the majority of their energy focusing on the lag measures and forgo the importance of a lead measure. This holds them back significantly because lag measure simply cannot be changed.

”We see this syndrome every day all over the world and in every area of life. The sales leader fixates on total sales, the service leader fixates on customer satisfaction, parents fixate on their children’s grades, and dieters fixate on the scale. And, in virtually every case, fixating solely on the lag measures fails to drive results.”

Leverage

McChesney explains that there’s one key principle behind good lead measures and that’s leverage. Without leverage, you won’t be able to move forward despite your best efforts. He explains that effort simply isn’t enough, but lead measures act as a leaver, giving you the ability to move forward and reach those goals.

Unfortunately, the lead measure data is harder to find that the lag measure data, making your job a little bit more difficult. However, McChesney emphasises again the importance of tracking your lead measures. He explains that he sees too many people and teams struggle with this, realising that getting the data is hard work. When realising how much work is required, they often don’t pursue the data at all. This is a real problem and something you need to avoid doing. No matter how hard, you have to pursue the lead measure data.

”Without data, you can’t drive performance on the lead measures; without lead measures, you don’t have leverage.”

DISCIPLINE 3: KEEP A COMPELLING SCOREBOARD

McChesney’s third discipline emphasises the importance of ensuring that everyone is always aware of the score. This is important because everyone needs to know whether they are on the right track or not at all times. McChesney calls this the discipline of engagement.

He explains that there is a difference between understanding the concept of lead and lag measures and actually knowing the score. If the lead and lag measures are not recorded and relayed to all team members, then they will quickly be forgotten. It’s so important to ensure that everyone knows the score, can see it visually and understands what this means. Knowing the score is going to keep you and your team engaged and propelling forwards.

The scoreboard

It’s important to be able to visually see the score, both for yourself and all other team members. Your scoreboard needs to be clear and outline the data in a simple and easy to understand way. It’s important that everyone understands the numbers, not just the leader. The key purpose of a scoreboard is to motivate the team. A couple of things to keep in mind when designing your scoreboard are the following:

  • Ensure it is simple. Only have necessary data on display and ensure that at a glance everyone can understand it.
  • Make it as visible as possible to everyone. Visibility equals a constant reminder
  • Show lead AND lag measures.
  • Are you winning? You need to be able to tell within a 5-second glance if you are on the right track.

Be in it to win it

McChesney identifies the concept of not feeling as if it is possible to win as one of the most demoralising. He emphasises the importance of team morale being as high as possible, everyone should be playing to win, not simply playing to survive and get through the day.

”In essence, you and your team make a bet that you can move the lead measures and that those lead measures will move the lag measure. When it starts to work, even people who have shown little interest become very engaged as the entire team starts to see that they are winning, often for the first time. Keep in mind that their engagement is not because the organisation is winning, or even that you as their leader are winning: it’s because they are winning.”

Engagement

McChesney poses the question; does engagement drive results or do results drive engagement? Most people believe the former. However, McChesney believes that results are what truly drives engagement. When a team can identify their actions as having a significant impact on the results, then their engagement is going to soar.

McChesney explains that morale and engagement are significantly effected by people feeling as if they are winning. He identifies winning as having a more significant affect than any money, bonus, working conditions or even the likability of the people you work with.

”Scoreboards can be a powerful way to engage employees. A motivating players’ scoreboard not only drives results but uses the visible power of progress to instil the mindset of winning.”

DISCIPLINE 4: CREATE A CADENCE OF ACCOUNTABILITY

McChesney’s fourth and final discipline as one of accountability. He emphasises the importance of having a consistent way to track past performance and plan for the future. The first three disciplines have been dedicated to ‘setting up the game’ but as McChesney explains, that fourth discipline is where the action happens. It’s designed to bring teams together and help them to operate at a top level with significant accountability. Any team that lacks accountability will find people losing focus, getting distracted and disagreements over what is really important.

”Disciplines 1, 2, and 3 bring focus, clarity, and engagement, which are powerful and necessary elements for your success. But with Discipline 4, you and your team ensure that the goal is achieved no matter what is going on around you.”

WIG sessions

McChesney highlights the importance of teams having weekly WIG (Wildly Important Goal) sessions. A WIG session is a twenty-to-thirty minute meeting with a pre-arranged agenda designed to re-focus on accountability. McChesney strongly believes that this kind of meeting is what makes the difference between a team failing and a team winning. These meetings are designed to hold each team member accountable for their dedicated tasks, all with the aim of moving the lead measures. McChesney explains that there are few rules that must be enacted in these WIG sessions.

  1. Always be consistent with your WIG sessions. Hold these on the same day and at the same time each week. Establish a predictable routine so that everyone always knows what to expect and when to expect it. And never miss a WIG session, even if one person can’t make it, hold it without them. Missing a week will have a significant effect on team accountability and therefore results.
  2. Limit the WIG session discussion to only actions and results directly related to the scoreboard. Do not allow any distractions and remain focused only on the task at hand. This will ensure that the sessions are fast, seamless and everyone walks away knowing exactly what is expected of them.
  3. Don’t go over the maximum time of thirty minutes. You want your sessions to be fast and efficient.
  4. Have a clear agenda. Start with a brief report on commitments. Then review the scoreboard, identifying successes and failures. Finally, plan the new commitments and direction.
  5. Have everyone prepare for the meeting. Encourage every team member to think about the same question each week: “what are the one or two most important things I can do this week to impact the lead measures?”

Use the time to troubleshoot

The WIG session is the ideal time for your team to discuss what isn’t working (and what is). Take the time to be creative and open to new suggestions if you are struggling. Identify all obstacles that are in your way and discuss how you can overcome these. Talking about issues out loud with the whole team can help you come to solutions quicker than if you were working alone. And more often than not, another team member will have the ability to help with your obstacle.

Black vs. grey

McChesney introduces the concept of visualising your working day in two blocks of colours. Black represents time dedicated to working on the wildly important goal and grey represents all other day-to-day tasks. McChesney explains that the majority of your working day will be represented by the colour grey. But the thing you need to avoid is having your entire week coloured grey. You need to ensure that there are blocks of black regularly. And this is something that your WIG session will help determine. By holding these weekly sessions, you and your team will ensure that black remains in the schedule and keeps you accountable.

”WIG sessions are the antidote to all-grey weeks. When the discipline of holding WIG sessions is sustained—when you and your team force the black into the grey every week—not only will you make consistent progress toward your goals, you’ll also begin to feel that you, rather than the whirlwind, are in charge.”

Disengagement

McChesney identifies a few reasons that team members become disengaged from their work. The first is anonymity. If someone feels that their leaders don’t recognise the work that they are doing, their engagement and motivation suffer significantly. The second reason is that a team member may feel irrelevant. If it’s not clear what the impact of the work they do is on the results then they are likely to feel insignificant and unmotivated. Finally, team members who cannot measure and asses their work struggle to understand their relevance and contributions.

So the goal of regular WIG sessions should be to address each of these three disengagement issues. Ensure that each team member feels recognised and acknowledge. Clearly identify how the work they are doing leads to the end results and give them the tools required to measure and assess their own work (this is where the scoreboard comes in).

”The WIG session encourages experimentation with fresh ideas. It engages everyone in problem-solving and promotes shared learning. It’s a forum for innovative insights as to how to move the lead measures, and because so much is at stake, it brings out the best thinking from every team member.”

CONCLUSION

Key takeaways

  • Discipline 1 is dedicated to focusing all of your attention and effort on only the things that are wildly important.
  • Select one or two key goals that you can dedicate all of your energy to.
  • By focusing only on key goals you are destined to have greater success and executer better than if you were trying to spread yourself too thin.
  • Discipline 2 is the discipline of leverage.
  • It’s about applying the majority of your energy, time and resources only to the activities that truly drive your lead measures.
  • A lead measure is the ‘measure’ of all tasks that are directly related to achieving the defined goal.
  • The aim of discipline 2 is to identify the tasks and actions that are most likely to help you and your team reach the goal.
  • Discipline 3 emphasises the importance of ensuring that everyone is always aware of the score.
  • This is important because everyone needs to know whether they are on the right track or not at all times.
  • Ensure that the scoreboard is visual, clear and easy to understand.
  • Discipline 4 is about accountability.
  • It’s important to have a consistent way to track past performance and plan for the future.
  • This is where weekly WIG sessions come in. Get your team to sit down together once a week for maximum 30 minutes to assess how you are getting on with pursuing the WIG.

Further reading

McChesney talks a lot about focusing on only one significant goal. This concept is something that Greg McKeown talks a lot about in his book Essentialism. This is a must read for people interested in productivity and getting more done. It’s a real eye-opener which challenges you to think about what’s important and how you’re spending your time. The book guides you through the process of saying “no” to the “trivial many” so you can focus more on the “essential few”. Similarly, The ONE Thing by Gary Keller is a must-read for anyone interested in productivity and personal improvement. This book clearly defines why productivity is the perfect vehicle for getting what you want and living an extraordinary life.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey explores a number of paradigms, principles and habits that can help you become more productive, whether that be as an individual, as part of an organisation or a business. Another similar read is Getting Things Done by David Allen is arguably the world’s most well known book on productivity. The lessons in this book should be considered essential reading for anyone looking to pursue a more productive lifestyle.

Guidelines is my eBook that summarises the main lessons from 33 of the best-selling self-help books in one place. It is the ultimate book summary; Available as a 80-page ebook and 115-minute audio book. Guidelines lists 31 rules (or guidelines) that you should follow to improve your productivity, become a better leader, do better in business, improve your health, succeed in life and become a happier person.

Action steps

  • Start to minimise your goals and focus on only one or two important ones at a time.
  • Learn how to introduce some accountability to your work and your team. Create your own ‘scoreboard’ and clearly identify whether everyone is on track and winning.
  • As a leader it’s a great idea to start implementing weekly WIG sessions.
  • Download the complete book from Amazon.

This summary is not intended as a replacement for the original book and all quotes are credited to the above mentioned author and publisher.

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