Lead By Using The "PITA, PETA or pita" Approach

Is your leadership style more of a PITA, PETA or pita?

Supply Chain Pita
PITA PeTA or pita?. Getty Images

As a leader, you’re making decisions all day long. Every decision brings its own unique set of circumstances – and each set of circumstances shouldn’t be approached with the same boilerplate leadership approach. One key to successful leadership is to calibrate your actions to the situation at hand.

So what tools do you have to guide you in the right type of leadership style to use?

Whether you’re a military leader, business manager, coach or parent, the “PITA, PETA,  or pita” approach can help inform leadership decision-making.

What?  You’ve never heard of the “PITA, PETA, or pita” approach? That’s because I’m making it up right now – literally as I’m typing these words.

But that doesn’t make it a less effective tool (actually, it might). Okay, so I’m making it up right now, but at least it’s based on years of my own leadership in the military and in the corporate world. And in my most challenging leadership position – as a dad.

What I’ve come to realize is that most key leadership actions fall into one of three categories – which can be defined a PITA, PETA, or pita.  By understanding these categories, you can decide which approach to deploy during your next leadership challenge.

Are you a PITA? This common acronym stands for “pain in the…” with the final word being a synonym for “posterior”. It also rhymes with “glass” if that helps you figure it out. In the movie “Steve Jobs,” engineer Andy Hertzfeld asks Jobs if he wants people to dislike him.

Jobs response is that he’s indifferent to whether people like him.

The PITA approach can be summed up as, “I’m here to lead, not to win a popularity contest.” PITA leaders make decisions without caring what people will think about them.

A PITA may not be who you are in your soft, gooey inside – but sometimes you might need to be one.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is a global animal rights organization that is sometimes known for its controversial methods. Whether spray painting fur coats or having celebrities pose nude in anti-fur ads – PETA doesn’t allow the norms of social convention dictate how it gets its message across. PETA believes that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way” and they will do what they have to live by that belief. As a leader, you may find yourself needing to get a message across that might be controversial or unpopular.

There’s an overlap between the PITA and the PETA approaches and the distinction is that a PITA leader might make a decision even though it could make waves. Whereas a PETA leader will make a decision because it makes waves.

In management, the difference would be: A company tells its departmental managers that they need to reduce their individual department’s headcount by a single employee each. While some managers choose to cut the employee with the least amount of seniority, a PITA manager will cut the employee that doesn’t perform to her expectations. And a PETA manager will cut the highest-performing employee – to put all the other employees on notice (the notice being, the PETA manager considers no employee untouchable – which should raise everyone’s performance out of fear).

And finally, pita. Granted, I selected “pita” because it’s a homonym of PITA and PETA. And, yes, pita is a soft flatbread. But the metaphor works. Because the pita leader uses softer skills and tries to be a more nourishing leader. The pita leader is effective in developing collaborative, team environments but General George S. Patton might’ve argued that a pita would never have taken Normandy.

A scenario that highlights the differences between the PITA, PETA and pita would be: A military patrol enters a zone where a nerve agent had been detected. The patrol wears their gas masks into the zone and upon entry, their nerve agent sensors tell them that there’s a high probability that the nerve agent has dispersed. But the only way to know for sure is to have one member of the patrol remove his mask to see if the nerve agent attacks him.

Who does the patrol leader select to remove his mask?

The PITA leader would select the team member with the least useful skillset (a redundant rifleman or a radio operator – anyone can carry a radio or a translator – he might just download an app).

The PETA leader selects his second in command.

The pita leader discusses his options with his patrol and then draws straws. And, ultimately, takes his own mask off.

As a parent, the PITA will demand a child finishes all homework before watching television. The PETA will give extra homework, not offer television as an option and then give extra homework. The pita parent sits with a child to help with homework and DVR’s shows for the weekend.

In supply chain (you’ve stumbled onto a supply chain blog – check the URL), supplier relationship management can be approached using PITA, PETA or pita.  In supply chain, your goal is to get your customer what they want, when they want it and spend as little money as possible getting that done.  You can be a PITA with your suppliers while demanding on-time delivery or a PETA to drive costs down or a pita to bring collaboration and transparency to your supply chain.

You, too, can be an effective leader – just know when to be a PITA, PETA, or pita.