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The Responsibility Virus: How Control Freaks, Shrinking Violets-and The Rest Of Us-can Harness The Power Of True Partnership Paperback – December 16, 2003

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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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Intriguing and well-argued." -- Washington Post

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reprint edition (December 16, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465044115
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465044115
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #850,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I am a strategy consultant and business professor - and a Dean for 15 years. My passion is exploring mysteries related to the ways we think about or model our world. I've looked, for example, for common patterns in the way successful leaders tackle difficult 'either/or' dilemmas. I've explored how it is that corporations drive out innovation - even as they desperately seek it. I've examined the way in which theories that are meant to help corporations achieve financial goals and make shareholders rich actually produce the opposite. Most recently, I have explored how we conceptualize strategy influence the way we do or do not create useful ways to guide an organization's actions. In each of my books, I attempt to understand a particular way in which our thinking can get in our own way, and provide specific advice for addressing that challenge.

Check out my books to the left and visit my website (www.rogerlmartin.com) if you want to see more of my writing.

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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Soren Triff on January 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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By The Peruvian Wunderkind on July 24, 2006
Format: Hardcover
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.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Ping on September 19, 2011
Format: Paperback
Every business person learns the principle of delegation. We're told, over and over again, to do it. It's usually offered as a rhetorical question: "Could you delegate this?" with the implicit meaning of "I think you probably can." Martin offers some excellent advice on what LEVEL of delegation to apply and points to the main reason why delegation often fails in practice: people usually go with an all or nothing approach.

What is unique about Martin's style is that he treats the book almost as a negotation with the reader. He knows this is going to be hard, and he spends some time describing the nightmare scenario of what will happen if we fail. It's a very compelling and engaging way to write.

The "virus" takes its life from the fear of failure. Failure offends values that,whether we understand them or not, govern how we approach the world. Researchers know that deep inside we desperately want to:

* Win, don't lose
* Maintain control
* Avoid embarrassment
* Stay rational

Sadly, the prospect of failure violates all of the above values: failure equals losing; after failure, someone else takes control; failure is profoundly embarrassing; and it is well-nigh impossible to maintain rationality while all this is going on. The prospect of all of the above triggers the deeply-ingrained response to fear: the fight-or-flight mechanism. Fight equates to seizing responsibility to make sure that failure doesn't happen. Flight equates to abdicating responsibility to make sure that failure doesn't happen to you specifically.

Eventually, something snaps. The over-responsible boss keeps soaking up responsibility from subordinates nudged into greater under-responsibility.
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