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The Responsibility Virus Hardcover – Oct 2 2002


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1 edition (Oct. 2 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465044107
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465044108
  • Product Dimensions: 24.3 x 16.4 x 2.5 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 572 g
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #302,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

A magazine CEO clashes with his v-p of sales over lagging ad sales. Two married attorneys each try to get the upper hand while house-hunting. A team of managers, intending to collaborate, winds up competing with each other. These are just some of the power struggles Martin, dean of the University of Toronto's business school, presents in this personal and professional self-help book. Both overachieving and underachieving execs will recognize themselves and their colleagues in Martin's realistic, well-sketched (pseudonymous) conflicts, in which ego and fear of failure are presented as major roadblocks to group consensus. His 15 years of consulting experience serve him well, especially when he demonstrates, with specific examples, how most poor decision-making begins at the level of individual behavior. Figures and diagrams abound, likening portions of the book to a Power Point presentation, albeit a useful one. For example, the "Responsibility Ladder" shows the levels of responsibility to which most people gravitate in most situations. At the lowest rung of the ladder, one set of problems is created when folks who fear failure drop difficult projects on other people's desks. Martin is quick to point out, however, that organizational problems can arise at the top of the ladder, too, when managers who seek control "consider options and make [a] decision, informing other [parties] subsequently." Martin wrote this book "to help people avoid the natural predisposition to screw up the handling of responsibility in ways that undermine their goals and well-being," and he succeeds. His examples and nuggets of advice are on-target and entertaining.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Review

"A Triumph. Few management books have ever brought such psychological insight to the question of why good people often struggle in positions of leadership." --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Soren Triff on Jan. 15 2003
Format: Hardcover
Roger Martin has lain down business organizations in the therapist chair, but you won't notice it because the author avoids skillfully the psychological labels currently in vogue.
If you often wonder about why you end up working more than others, why some people don't understand what you clearly state or why everybody sees what is wrong in the company and they don't do anything to fix it, this book is for you. It goes to the root of the problem, explains it plainly and offers a step by step program to solve it. The book also provides a better understanding of what's behind the Enron debacle and the government agencies mishandling of security issues before, during and after September 11.
It doesn't matter if the reader is a CEO, a manager, a professional or a secretary, he or she will find familiar faces and situations; people that could be your boss, your vice-president of sales or your managing editor. Why do we have the chance to see ourselves and others in these pages? The book is simply about human nature. It deals with the underlying emotions, culture and language that make many bureaucracies what they are: an incompetent and unfulfilled mass of otherwise intelligent, good and hard working people.
Martin explains that lack of collaboration between leadership and other parties in the organization brings an unbalanced approach to responsibility. The author describes what he calls the "heroic leader", which takes more responsibility that he or she should. Conversely, the other parties react giving up responsibility. Once the leader is unable to meet the goals, he or she sits back and takes the position of the followers.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 7 reviews
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
How to transform a bureaucracy into a healthy organization Jan. 15 2003
By Soren Triff - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Roger Martin has lain down business organizations in the therapist chair, but you won't notice it because the author avoids skillfully the psychological labels currently in vogue.
If you often wonder about why you end up working more than others, why some people don't understand what you clearly state or why everybody sees what is wrong in the company and they don't do anything to fix it, this book is for you. It goes to the root of the problem, explains it plainly and offers a step by step program to solve it. The book also provides a better understanding of what's behind the Enron debacle and the government agencies mishandling of security issues before, during and after September 11.
It doesn't matter if the reader is a CEO, a manager, a professional or a secretary, he or she will find familiar faces and situations; people that could be your boss, your vice-president of sales or your managing editor. Why do we have the chance to see ourselves and others in these pages? The book is simply about human nature. It deals with the underlying emotions, culture and language that make many bureaucracies what they are: an incompetent and unfulfilled mass of otherwise intelligent, good and hard working people.
Martin explains that lack of collaboration between leadership and other parties in the organization brings an unbalanced approach to responsibility. The author describes what he calls the "heroic leader", which takes more responsibility that he or she should. Conversely, the other parties react giving up responsibility. Once the leader is unable to meet the goals, he or she sits back and takes the position of the followers. Meanwhile the frustrated followers take responsibility for their part, but because they can not attain the needed broad or bold solutions, parties induce the leader to take again more responsibilities that he or she can handle, and the infectious cycle of dependency starts again.
The mysterious Responsibility Virus is nothing more than the very human fear of failure. According to Chris Argyris, cited in the book, there are "governing values" that guide the way we interpret and deal with the world. They reside so ingrained in human nature that they apply to people across ages, cultures, economic status, and educational levels. Humans-Agyris claim--will always try to win, maintain control, avoid embarrassment and stay rational in any situation. Fear of failure triggers the governing values and they make us either take more responsibility (fight) or abdicate responsibility (flight).
Martin proposes the use of some "tools" to improve collaboration (choice structuring process), eliminate the mistrust and misunderstanding (frame experiment) and to balance capability and responsibility (responsibility ladder) among the parties in the organization. All these tools have the general objective of untying the person from the situation that requires attention and put aside the biased frame of mind from which we see the problem. Once all the parties involved in decision-making have a better perspective of the issue, they are in a position to find a middle ground between capabilities and responsibility.
It is at the end of the book, redefining leadership, when Martin describes the leader as what sociologists or psychologists would call a mature personality. According to the author, a leader should be capable of splitting responsibility through dialogue, apportioning responsibilities in keeping with capabilities, but more importantly, making apportionment discussable and subject performance to public testing. Although he doesn't mention it, you have the sense that it is the leader a significant carrier of the responsibility virus and also accountable for spreading his or her fear of failure throughout the organization.
In these times of leaders finger-pointing at each other and frustrated managers turned into audacious whistle-blowers this book is a timely required reading to understand not only organizations but the world around us.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A Radical Reformulation of the Leader/Follower Dynamic July 24 2006
By The Peruvian Wunderkind - Published on Amazon.com
Ever notice how offices (maybe even yours) are split between the doers and the idlers? Ever notice the resentment that accrues in workplaces where control freaks do everything and ne'er-do-wells do nothing? Ever wonder how such jaded office environments came to be, and whether they ever could change?

Well, step right up, dear reader, because this book decodes the phenomenon that cruelly saps the morale out of even the most capable of offices. Labelling this task imbalance as the `responsibility virus,' Roger Martin seeks to render a diagnosis and prognosis of this nefarious sickness. Martin, with the assistance of psychological and biological principles, explains how the basic `fight or flight' response leads many to assume too much or too little responsibility in times of stress. This results in a causal chain reaction where the other workers correspondingly take positions on the opposing end of the spectrum to best complement this initial game opening. As Martin ably explains, these positions are never static; over-responsible persons eventually become under-responsible, and vice versa. This is essentially a never-ending dance that may eventually destroy an entire office.

So what to do, you ask? Martin proposes four separate strategies that are designed to purge the workplace body of this virus, all of which may be used on their own or in combination with the others, depending on the state of the virus' evolution and the players' goals. These different methods all have the share the same central goal: maximizing inter-office collaboration and thereby ridding the workplace of the responsibility virus. They are all very easy-to-understand and readily adaptable to many workplaces. Martin's generous use of case examples also provides a context to identifying problems and their respective solutions.

Martin's most intriguing strategy is to redefine the nature of true leadership and, by extension, corresponding `followership.' Martin entreats the reader not to accept the canard of the `man on the horse;' the heroic, all-knowing, all-powerful leader who can jump into the fray at any given moment and single-handedly solve a vexing problem, while his minions listlessly stand by waiting for the hero to save the day. Rather, true leadership fosters collaboration; followers contribute to the best of their abilities and open lines of communication are maintained throughout the various levels of management.

In all, this is a persuasive read that is very ably argued. Although I felt the conclusion was a bit rushed (where Martin makes a u-turn from his central argument that people's actions are dictated by their governing values), readers would be hard-pressed to write the book off as unhelpful. Use it in your business life or even your personal life; the book is a powerful suppressant of the responsibility virus.
Like Looking in a Mirror Nov. 25 2007
By A. Devero - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Anyone who has ever worked in an organization has witnessed the paralysis that sets in with failure, reprimand, disappointing results or unfulfilled expectations. That recognition is palpable throughout this book. The deepening loss of power that follows seemingly small pitfalls or mediocre human interactions is extremely damaging and spreads to each and every aspect of an organization. Martin does a great job of both carving out the territory of these viral disempowerments, and of showing us how to bring greater authenticity to our work and communication to turn around these conditions. A correction in the psychological or cultural environment can be powerfully segued into an opportunity for more strategic thought and alignment of behavior with an organization's vision. Having seen so many of these cultural viruses do irreparable harm to both people and business results, the book has become a wonderful addition to an arsenal of tools that is never complete. I highly recommend The Responsibility Virus to business-people of any level of authority.

Amie Devero, Author of Powered by Principle: Using Core Values to Build World-Class Organizations
Insightful and revealing June 1 2006
By Abhishek K. Gupta - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book explains in very simple terms why some people are so driven while others just go on a cruise and the relationship between the two.

If you ever feel overwhelmed at work and often find yourself wondering why others don't pull their own weight - this book is for you.

If you feel like you could do so much more at work if only given a chance but lack the confidence or the knowledge to go for it - read this book.
Must read for Managers and Business people alike! Feb. 19 2013
By Matthew - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Great book with tons of valuable insight into why organizations fail to hold people accountable and understand responsibilities. I'd recommend giving it a read for an eye opener! I read this then purchased it on Kindle for my Girlfriend... She was having a hard time at work with the culture and this helped her understand more of how she fit into that larger picture. This did the same for me while working at a consulting company and we fixed a lot of problems related to what is discussed in this book.


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