Book Review: The 4 Disciplines of Execution

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I bought and read The 4 Disciplines of Execution in January of 2017 because Cal Newport 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.

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 4 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 4 Disciplines of Execution is a book that will help you make a dramatic improvement in your performance and your quality of work life.


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