The Art of Adherence

by / ⠀Startup Advice / April 8, 2013

The Art of AdherenceIn business and in life, the game is usually won by those who can consistently execute a well-thought-out strategy. In other words, winners stick with it—they practice adherence.

Adherence is the ability to consistently execute.

Not coincidentally, the word “adherence” appears to have originated in the 1500s from the French word “adherer,” which means “to stick to.” Adherence is the critical link between strategy (knowing) and results (doing). Therefore, it is the solution to the knowing-doing gap. Winning requires adherence because successful execution of your plan is not a one-time event but rather steady progress over an extended period of time.

So how do you achieve adherence? How can you ensure that you will stick with your strategy long enough to win? Fortunately, adherence is a skill that can be learned. Based on the experiences of winning individuals, teams, and organizations, we have identified three components of adherence:


Focus provides the clarity necessary to make decisions that support your most important goals. It results in a clearly defined pathway to success. A sharp focus answers the “what” question – What do you need to do to execute your strategy?


Competence is used in the broadest sense of the term. It encompasses all the skills, systems, processes and tools a team uses to achieve its goals. The result is the ability to commit to, measure and hit your targets. Building competence answers the “how” question – Howwill you execute your strategy?


Passion creates a sense of connectedness. It creates a connection between teammates, a connection to our human need for meaningful work and a connection to each individual’s sense of value and contribution. Igniting passion answers the “why” question – Why are you executing your strategy?

The relationship between these three components is best illustrated by a multiplication equation we call the adherence equation: Focus x Competence x Passion = Adherence

When you think about adherence this way, the critical role of each component becomes clear. From elementary school math we know that if any multiplier in an equation is 0, then the product is 0. For example, assume that each of the three components—focus, competence, and passion—are rated on a scale from 0 to 10, with 0 being the lowest and 10 being the highest. If any one of the three components is missing, (e.g., focus = 0), then there is no adherence:

Focus x Competence x Passion = Adherence

         0     x          4           x       8      =       0

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The three adherence components are interrelated, meaning that changes in one affect changes in the others, similar to the way the various systems of the human body affect one another. As you address one component of the equation—or conversely, as you ignore one—you will see direct implications in the other two. Consider what happens with a modest improvement in all three components:

Focus x Competence x Passion = Adherence

5     x           5          x       5      =      125

6     x           6          x       6      =      216

A modest improvement in each component produces a 73 percent increase in adherence (125 to 216). This underscores the compounding relationship among these components. Focus, competence, and passion are equally important and more powerful together. This interrelationship creates a multiplier effect that can work for you (or against you if the components are not managed). Enhancing one component creates a multiplier effect on your adherence. As we discuss each of the three components, you will see the connections and notice that focus, competence, and passion are not three distinct and separate elements; rather, they are interconnected dynamics that influence and build upon each other.

Achieving adherence is simple but not necessarily easy. It takes skill and creativity to continually nurture focus, competence, and passion with your team. This is why we call it the art of adherence.

The art of adherence is a lot like growing Indian Thorny bamboo, which is native to Asia. Like many bamboo species, when this particular seed is planted, it requires the right amount of watering, sunlight, care, and feeding. It takes up to two years of this kind of careful attention for the bamboo to build a strong root structure, which is not visible aboveground. However, once the sprout finally breaks through the earth, the Indian Thorny bamboo can grow up to 100 feet in a month!

When you consistently sharpen focus, build competence, and ignite passion, you build a strong foundation for adherence. Initially, you may not see many tangible results. But rest assured that things are happening beyond your sight. Adherence is growing. Leaders and team members begin to stick with it, to execute their plans consistently. Your team builds momentum as it adheres to its plan and achieves small goals that lead to bigger goals. The required effort decreases over time as actions become habits. Momentum continues to build, resulting in a self-reinforcing cycle of achievement. Then, seemingly overnight, your results will multiply.

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Mastering the art of adherence is a primary job of every leader at every level of the organization, and the adherence equation is designed to help you do just that. It offers a proven way for you to consistently execute your plan.

Personal Adherence

Adherence is just as challenging for us individually as it is professionally. We already know that few of us stick with our New Year’s resolutions, and we also have trouble sticking with other plans we make throughout the year. For example, of those of us who start a workout routine, about half will quit. Interestingly, the exercise dropout rate is nearly the same as it was 20 years ago despite the growth of the fitness industry.

Likewise, executing our plans is just as important in our personal lives as it is in our professional lives, perhaps even more so. Our personal plans affect our personal well-being, and our well-being impacts virtually every aspect of our lives. Furthermore, our personal lives and professional lives are intertwined. We tend to bring our work home with us and we also tend to take our personal challenges and successes to work.

Personal adherence is crucial for another reason: adherence, like most aspects of leadership, works inside out, meaning that we must start with ourselves.

We win from within.

Effective team performance begins with effective personal performance, and team adherence begins with personal adherence. We must lead from the inside out— making personal changes and improvements before we can credibly ask our teams to do the same. The power of role modeling is true in every aspect of our lives. Children mimic their parents’ values, behaviors, and habits. It has been and always will be that way. This deeply in the work setting as it is in the home.

In our work with clients, we occasionally see leaders take an outside- in approach—they attempt to change their teams before changing themselves. For example, they tell their teams to be more focused, and yet they are not focused as leaders. Although an outside-in approach can produce short-term results, it will rarely, if ever, produce long-term, sustained change. In fact, most organizational change efforts fail within the first 18 months for exactly this reason—leaders take an outside-in approach to change. This yields compliance rather than commitment from their teams. And behavior change for the sake of compliance is rarely “owned” as deeply as we need in order to sustain high performance.

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We must first master self-leadership before we can expect to effectively lead others. Think of self-leadership like this: Every action you take is like a pebble tossed into a quiet pond. Your actions affect others’ actions, which create a ripple effect of reactions. There are no neutral actions; everything we do has a positive or negative impact of some sort. This is especially true for leaders. Your team members are watching everything you do. Your actions and attitudes have a direct effect on their actions and attitudes. Whether or not your team members have ever said the words out loud, their mantra is, “If you can’t lead yourself, then don’t lead me.” Winning leaders start with themselves, and they don’t have to assert their leadership because others naturally want to follow them.

If you want your team to stick with it, start with yourself.

The good news is that the art of adherence is the same regardless of the application—personal or professional. There is nothing mysterious about the way high-performing individuals achieve their results. They don’t follow fads or trends. They execute the basics, day in and day out, whether it is how they eat, exercise, learn, invest, serve, read, listen, prepare, or work. The critical difference between winners and the rest is their ability to stick with it.

If you want high and sustained results on the outside, remember that it starts on the inside. Master the art of adherence in your own life first. To help you do that, we’ve included a chapter on personal adherence for each component of the adherence equation. These chapters include examples of people who demonstrate excellent personal adherence, along with practical actions you can take to sharpen your personal focus, build your personal competence, and ignite your personal passion.


Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. and Julie Davis-Colan are leadership advisors.  Colan also authored 12 books and this is an excerpt from his latest book that he co-authored with Julie Davis-Colan, Stick with It:  Mastering the Art of Adherence.  Learn more at www.theLgroup.comTake a Complimentary personal or team Adherence Assessment and receive a real-time feedback report.

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About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.


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