Responsibility Virus
How to Cure You & Your Company of the Fear of Failure

By Roger Martin
Financial Times / Pearson Education
November 2002
ISBN: 0-273-66343-7
304 Pages, Illustrated
$57.50 paper original

*** Ships in 6-8 Weeks

"This book is brilliant, and well worth studying." Marketing Business, January 2003.

Your business faces a challenge. The usual management suspects lock themselves in a meeting room and frantically create a plan. The plan is, of course, secret. They try to do everything themselves. They fail. Meanwhile, everybody else sits around waiting to have the problem solved for them by the heroic managers. They don't get the full picture; they don't buy into the plans. Recognize these symptoms? It's the responsibility virus at work. What makes some people in organizations run from blame while others claim credit for everything? Why is it that so many important decisions get left to so few managers? Why do some people always take charge while others simply take orders?

The Responsibility Virus is a cycle of failure driven by people who take too much or too little responsibility for results. Here's how to cure you and your company of the fear of failure. From one of our most original business thinkers comes a diagnosis of the fear of failure that traps all who work in organizations - from the board room to the mail room . Complete with tried and tested tools to help everyone make better choices and decisions, The Responsibility Virus will help you to share the burden of leadership and spread responsibility.

"The Responsibility Virus exposes a set of crucial interpersonal processes that underpin the success or failure of any organization structure. It also helps explain why so many companies fail to make strategic choices. By offering both a compelling framework and intensely practical ways forward, the book makes an important and welcome contribution to basic knowledge about management."
-Michael E. Porter, Bishop Lawrence University Professor, Harvard University

"A triumph. Few management books have ever brought such psychological insight to the question of why good people often struggle in positions of leadership. Roger Martin has changed the management paradigm."
- Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point

"Martin advances a new concept that explains under performance and defensive routines. More importantly, it can be used to generate high organizational performance around difficult issues, and do so in such a way that the solutions not only work, they persevere. The book is full of concrete examples and stories that will grab the readers attention."
- Chris Argyris, James Bryant Conant Professor of Education and Organizational Behaviour at Harvard Business School

"Full of provocative insights that strike so many chords of self-recognition. Martin doesn't just identify a common and deadly management failing but provides the road map to get out of the problem and win."
-Tina Brown

World-class consultant and business school dean Roger Martin leaps outside the box of contemporary management thinking to offer a provocative diagnosis of the problem that infects all too many organizations: the Responsibility Virus.

Drawing upon his years of experience advising companies on strategy, planning and action, Martin shows how most poor decision-making begins at the level of individual behaviour. Because most of us will do anything to win, maintain control, and avoid embarrassment, we constantly adapt our behaviour to those around us. Trapped in this dynamic, we vacillate between taking charge and backing off, causing those around us to vacillate too.

Over-responsible leaders need under-responsible followers. And under-responsible followers need over-responsible leaders. Each provides the energy the other needs to sustain their part of the Virus. The critical reality is that every one of us, in each specific situation, holds the power to stop the Virus in our own hands. All we have to do is refuse the opportunity presented to act over-responsibly or under-responsibly.

With lively case studies based on real experience, Martin lays out the tools that all of us can put into practice as we contemplate business choices and decisions. His sophisticated and impassioned belief in the power of one will be required reading for any of us who think about how we function in organizations, from the boardroom to the mail room. In this book you will find tactics and personal strategies to overcome fear of failure and get everybody willing and able to take decisions for themselves.

"Take-charge leadership is the stuff of Hollywood and history books. In most cases, such heroic leadership not only fails to inspire and engage, it produces passivity and alienation instead. Subordinates just stand back and watch."
- Roger Martin


Table of Contents

Introduction - Do We Need Another Hero?

Section One: Dynamics of the Responsibility Virus

Chapter One - Understanding the Responsibility Virus

Chapter Two - Role of the Fear of Failure

Chapter Three - Static and Dynamic Conservation of Responsibility

Section Two: Costs of the Responsibility Virus

Chapter Four - The Death of Collaboration

Chapter Five - The Development of Mistrust and Misunderstanding

Chapter Six - Atrophy of Choice-Making Skills

Section Three: Tools for Inoculating Against the Virus

Chapter Seven - The Choice Structuring Process

Chapter Eight - The Frame Experiment

Chapter Nine - The Responsibility Ladder

Chapter Ten - The Redefinition of Leadership and Followership

Section Four: Fighting the Responsibility Virus

Chapter Eleven - Mired in Under-Responsibility

Chapter Twelve - Trapped in Over-Responsibility

Chapter Thirteen - The Challenge Facing Professionals

Chapter Fourteen - The Challenge for Boards of Directors

Chapter Fifteen - Fighting the Virus in Everyday Life

Conclusion - Recognizing and Fighting the Responsibility Virus Notes

Named one of the 'sixteen change agents who are Creating your future' by Fast Company magazine, Roger L. Martin is Dean of the Rotman School of Business at the University of Toronto. For fifteen years he was a consultant with the Monitor Company, where in addition to his client work he was founding chairman of Monitor University, the firm's educational arm.

In addition to publishing in the Harvard Business Review, Time, and other magazines and newspapers, Martin has also been profiled in periodicals such as The Financial Times, The Globe and Mail and Fast Company.

"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 conflicts, in which ego and fear of failure are presented as major roadblocks. 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. 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."
- Publishers Weekly

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