Maximizing Your Potential: How to Excel with the 4 Disciplines of Execution

Leadership Development, Organizational Leadership

Do you ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels, working hard but never quite achieving the success you desire? 

Whether you’re a professional, a leader, or a manager, you know that reaching your full potential requires focus, discipline, and accountability. That’s where the 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) come in. 

By applying these proven strategies, you can learn to prioritize your goals, take action on the right things, track your progress, and hold yourself and your team accountable for results. 

These strategies originated with Franklin Covey, a leading leadership consulting agency, and popularized by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling in their best-selling book The 4 Disciplines of Execution. The updated edition was released in 2021.

While not a magic bullet by any means, these four disciplines can help you bring your team and organization to the next level.

You should consider 4DX as part of a larger strategic planning effort and your yearly strategic evaluation process.

If you struggle with this kind of planning, we have a guide to help you grow in your strategic thinking ability as well.

In this article, we’ll dive into the four disciplines and show you how to maximize your potential, achieve your goals, and take your career to the next level. 

So, buckle up and get ready to learn how to excel with the 4 Disciplines of Execution.

The First Discipline: Focus on the Wildly Important

The first discipline of execution is to focus on the wildly important. This involves identifying the Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) that will have the greatest impact on your life or business, and then prioritizing them above all others. 

These WIGs are the 20% of your work that will produce 80% of your results.

The key is to determine which goals will have the most significant impact on your success and focus all of your energy and resources on achieving them.

A WIG must take the following form:

From X to Y by T (with T being a specific time or date).

You might notice that this is very similar to SMART goals. In fact, a good WIG will also be SMART.

Therefore, a WIG might be something like:

  • Increase customer satisfaction from 50% to 80% by the end of the quarter.
  • Grow market share from 30% to 40% within the next 12 months.
  • Decrease work-site accidents from 15 to 5 per quarter by the end of FY 2023.

You’ll notice that all of these follow the same pattern: from X to Y by a specific time.

This is not to say that you’ll ignore everything else. In fact, 4DX recognizes that you will by necessity continue to spend 80% of your time on “maintaining the whirlwind.”

That is, 80% of your time will be spent on taking care of the day-to-day operations and tasks that keep your business or life running.

But in order to make progress, you must also prioritize and focus on the 20% that will make a difference: your WIGs.

WIGs are the 20% that will move the needle, where the biggest gains can be achieved. These are the goals that require extra effort, focus, and resources in order to be achieved.

So, how do you actually move the needle on these WIGs? That’s where discipline two comes in.

The Second Discipline: Act on the Lead Measure

The next step is to develop lead measures that will help you achieve your WIG. Lead measures are the driving force behind a goal. 

Lead measures are the things that you can do today that will create the desired effect tomorrow.

Here’s the problem, though. We tend to focus on lag measures.

Examples of common (and important!) lag measures are things like: 

  • Revenue
  • Profit
  • Market share
  • Productivity
  • Quality
  • Customer satisfaction

Lag measures can tell us how our business or life is doing, but by the time they come in, it’s too late to do anything about them.

Still, many leaders get hyper-focused on these lag measures and fail to put most of their efforts toward the things they can have an immediate impact on.

Lead measures, on the other hand, are the specific actions you can do this week that will impact those lag measures.

You can consider “the principle of leverage” here. Leverage is the idea that you can have a big impact by focusing on the essential few WIGs and investing small amounts of effort on the right lead measures.

Lead measures can be key performance indicators (KPIs), such as the number of sales calls made each day, or the number of customer complaints resolved each day.

It’s important to ensure that your lead measures are SMART, just as with your WIGs.

Let’s look at a specific example. Imagine that you want to increase customer satisfaction from 50% to 80% by the end of the quarter.

By the time you receive that customer satisfaction number based on surveys or reviews or whatever methods you have for obtaining customer feedback, it’s too late. You can’t go back and change that survey, your customer is already satisfied (or not).

So, what might be some lead measures here? 

Your lead measure might be to make sure that every customer service call is resolved within 48 hours.

Or it might be that each customer service agent is required to follow-up with a customer after a resolution is made to ensure that the customer is fully satisfied.

The point is that you can focus on smaller behaviors that will add up over time to the bigger goal of increasing customer satisfaction.

Again, these are the things you can do today that will impact that WIG.

But how do you know if you’re actually moving the needle and having an impact on the WIG? Here the third discipline will help you and your team keep on track.

The Third Discipline: Keep a Compelling Scoreboard

It’s easy to see that the game changes as soon as people begin keeping score.

Just imagine the difference between the competitiveness of a couple of friends just shooting hoops freely on the basketball court versus playing a game of 3-on-3 basketball where they’re keeping score.

Why? Because people are motivated by a score. People want to know if they’re winning.

Keeping a compelling scoreboard can thus lead to far greater employee engagement.

Employee engagement is important for businesses to remain successful, as engaged employees have an average of higher job performance, customer satisfaction and retention rates than those who are not engaged.

Studies have shown that engaged employees are 27% more likely to exceed performance expectations, are more motivated and are more likely to stay with their employer. 

A Gallup poll has found that only about 13% of employees are actively engaged in their work, so there is great potential for businesses to increase engagement. Keeping score is a great way to do that (along with the accountability built into discipline four).

The 4DX system uses a core scorecard consisting of a WIG, its corresponding lead measure, and a deadline.

It might look something like this:

WIG: Increase customer satisfaction from 50% to 80% by the end of the quarter

Lead Measure: Ensure that every customer service call is resolved within 48 hours

Deadline: How many days until the end of the quarter

To simplify this even further, it could look like: 

WIG: 80% customer satisfaction

Lead Measure: Current average customer service call resolution time

Deadline: xx day

The 4DX Scoreboard also serves as a rallying point for your team. It’s a beacon of light that keeps everyone on track and motivated.

There are a few important notes about the scoreboard.

This scoreboard should be created for and even by the players, not the coach.

Coaches tend to like complex scoreboards with a plethora of statistics and data that doesn’t serve to motivate players.

However, a player’s scoreboard is something that the players can look at daily and gain a sense of accomplishment from. 

They can glance at the scoreboard and within five seconds determine if the team is winning or not.

So, make sure your scoreboard is simple and compelling, ideally based on input from your team.

But keeping track of the score isn’t enough. People need to commit to moving the ball forward every week, which is where the fourth discipline comes in.

The Fourth Discipline: Create a Cadence of Accountability

Accountability is a crucial part of making sure people stick to their commitments, but it’s often overlooked or devalued in the workplace

The 4DX system uses weekly “WIG sessions” to review the team’s progress and make sure everyone is held accountable.

These WIG sessions are short, focused meetings that take place at the same time and place every week.

These should be no longer than 20 minutes, requiring everyone to stay on task and focused.

At the WIG session, each person reports on their progress since the last meeting in focusing on the lead measures you’ve identified.

They are encouraged to be candid about both successes and struggles — ensuring that they are able to encourage and be spurred on by others on the team.

This builds trust as well as a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for the team’s success.

The WIG session also serves as a forum for problem-solving and brainstorming solutions to any issues or blockers that the team is up against.

By the end of the meeting, everyone should have a clear understanding of what they need to do over the next week to move their WIGs forward.

In addition, they should verbally commit to their teammates about what they will do this week to act on those lead measures.

For example, they might commit to troubleshooting any calls that have gone past 36 hours to make sure that the time continues to stay below 48 hours.

Or another possible commitment would be that they commit to spending 5 hours training newer customer service associates on how to resolve issues more quickly.

At the next meeting, the team checks in to review progress and any commitments that have been made.

People are far more likely to complete commitments that they have voluntarily made and then vocalized to other people. This is a key aspect of goal setting that is provided in professional coaching and professional development programs.


The 4 Disciplines of Execution are a framework that helps to ensure success by breaking down the goal into smaller, actionable steps and holding people accountable for the work.

The four disciplines are focused on clarity, commitment, and accountability, providing a clear roadmap for success.

With commitment, clarity, a compelling scoreboard, and a cadence of accountability, you can help your team succeed in achieving its WIG and avoid any potential landmines that may arise along the way.

In doing so, you will be ensuring that not only is the WIG achieved, but that your team remains highly motivated and engaged.

Do you want to learn more about how to apply these disciplines in your context and grow as an influential leader? Book your free 15 minute coaching consultation today!