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“Nike is famous for its mantra, “Just do it.” While this is a good marketing slogan it is a lousy mantra for execution in business.”


One of the critical success factors to effectiveness in every organization is of course execution—getting things done. The old adage to work smarter, not harder applies here. Execution should be defined as “Getting the right things done, by the right people, for the right reasons.” The “right things” are the what’s—the tactics, activities or projects that support your business strategy. The “right people” have capability and passion. And the “right reasons” must link to the purpose or the why of your business. It’s not as catchy a phrase as Nike’s, but it is a more helpful mantra for business leaders.

But even this more applicable definition is easier said than done. Be prepared for executional barriers or interference. It’s like body contact in hockey, football or rugby—inevitable and part of the game. But you need to understand it, embrace it and address it in order to be effective and successful. Interference is both mental and emotional.

Here are four common types of execution interference, and how you can get around each of them.


To succeed, everyone should be clear on and behind the same goals and expectations. Step back and ask yourself some questions. Have we clearly articulated what success looks like in behavioral terms? How does this particular project or initiative support the overall strategy? Do we have agreement on accountabilities? Do those accountable for the tactics understand how they connect to the strategy and purpose? Should we do it at all? What other functional areas do we need to engage?
By taking a step back, looking at the big picture, clarifying key goals, and determining key resources needed, you can align the project or initiative in question with your overall business strategy explicitly.


It’s scary trying new things, and that can lead to all kinds of fears—the fear of not being good enough, of not having enough, of the unknown. Too often these worries are not expressed. Voice your fears! Showing vulnerability and transparency should be seen as a leadership strength, not a weakness. Leaders that show and encourage vulnerability are admired. That openness is so healthy for an organizational culture. Getting fears out in the open and collaborating on how to address them will help—not—hinder execution.
Once your fear is out in the open, deal with. Acknowledge that humans by our very nature of evolution experience fear, and that it’s normal. Rather than mentally ignoring the fear, accept it and look at it square in the face. This allows the fear to ‘pass through’ you.


When in doubt, people tend to revert back into old, tried and true habits. As leaders, we need to encourage trial and error and the development of new or optimized organizational habits. When encouraging new habits, consider the three W’s:

  • The why provides the context and awareness for the habit
  • The WIIFM (what’s in it for me) makes it personal and provides motivation to make a shift
  • The when of the outcome needs to be immediate (in next week), not far out in the future

Having a clear why, an evident what’s in it for me and an immediate when dramatically increases the likelihood of trying a new or improved habit.


In his great book Drive, Dan Pink discusses three types of motivation, which are highly relevant when considering executing anything: mastery, autonomy, and purpose. Purpose and meaning play important roles at every level of an organization. If as leaders, we don’t have a clearly articulated why for a project, initiative or idea, it just ain’t going to get executed! Or if it is, it will be half-hearted and/or half-baked.

My definition of execution included the idea of “the right people.” Step back more often and ask yourself: Who should execute this? Is it wiser to delegate? Who else should be involved? Too often we “just do it” because it is easier. If we are focusing on “just do it,” we may miss the mark and the opportunity to provide growth for others.

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