What Do Workplace Pit Bulls Do to Accountability?

Leaders, do you appoint someone the workplace pit bull believing it will make everyone more responsible and accountable? Let’s consider what workplace pit bulls do to accountability.

What Do Workplace Pit Bulls Do to Accountability?

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The Story.
In a meeting with a brand new customer, one of my clients introduced herself to me as the one who pit bulls everyone. The boss had given her that responsibility believing it would make everyone more accountable.

I finished the engagement and for the first time turned down follow on business when they asserted the pit bull approach would remain. Her actions had few positive outcomes and many negative.

The Claim. Driving and pressuring people to the maximum creates accountability.

The Truth. Driving and pressuring people to the maximum creates a flurry of activity and fear of blame. It might create short term productivity but not accountability.

What Do Workplace Pit Bulls Do to Accountability?

  1. Make team members very risk averse. They take the safe approach to avoid the pit bull’s bite. This has little to do with producing the quality outcome and is hardly accountable to the organization’s goals.
  2. Breed a not my fault culture to avoid blame and punishment. This is the exact opposite of responsibility and accountability.
  3. Stress people right out … of their knowledge. Have you ever been so stressed that you can’t even think? How can you be accountable to the organization’s goals if you can’t apply your knowledge, creativity, and critical thinking on a daily basis?
  4. Reduce trust and respect. When a blame culture takes root, people begin to mistrust not only the pit bull but everyone around. Everyone covers their tracks instead of investing in true collaboration and teamwork to reach the organization’s goals. This is not accountability.
  5. Demoralize team members. Workplace pit bulls may produce obedience yet it’s at the cost of morale, spirit, and the desire to be accountable.

Workplace pit bulls (or those who appoint them) are filled with fear of organizational failure and instill fear to prevent it. Ironic, isn’t it, that they can end up producing the very thing they wish to avoid — organizational failure!

Accountability does not foster a culture of fear and blame nor emerge from it. It thrives in learning organizations that empower people within appropriate boundaries.

It rises out of honoring individual accomplishments as well as team successes. It both requires and engenders high levels of achievement by inspiring new possibilities and tapping the team’s current knowledge and ideas.

If you are a leader and aren’t seeing the performance and results you need from the teams, don’t seal your fate by confusing accountability and blame.

Blame won’t change their behavior; a change in your behavior will. Honestly assess your leadership style and make changes to produce change.

Inspire accountability in your teams. Don’t pit bull them into obedience.

What is the greatest approach you have ever used or witnessed that produced accountability?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Related Post:
Leadership: Breed Accountability Not Blame

Resource for Entrepreneurial Leaders: Something Needs to Change Around Here by Liz Weber, CMC.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on customer service, teamwork, and leading change to corporate teams. She turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

19 Responses to “What Do Workplace Pit Bulls Do to Accountability?”

  1. Miss Priss! says:

    One of the great pleasure of my working life has been to play tricks on office pit bulls. Some are too stupid to know they’re being played by a few of us sneaks, and the other ones eventually have burned out. What fun! Pit bulls … your bark has bite at first, but those of us who hate office games, politics, and gamesmanship eventually pull your teeth out. One by one. And what time and mental energy have we all wasted in the process, too.

  2. Joshua Symonette says:


    To be honest, I have a strong dislike for those kind of people. You pretty much covered most of my reasons. But what doesn’t make sense to me is why you would put all of the responsibility of accountability on one person. That is pretty ridiculous. Furthermore, if you need a workplace pit bull, then you probably have the wrong kind of people. And if you have good ones, they won’t put up with that for long.

    As far as good examples go, I remember my college coach, Mike Smith (who is now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons) always told us that each person on our defense had a specific “fit” on each play. If one person was out of place, we were vulnerable for a let down. We practiced that every single day. No one wanted to be the guy that was out of place. It didn’t happen that often and when it did, there were several teammates there to cover. As a result, our defense was always ranked pretty high. We didn’t have one pit bull. There were 11 of us, accountable to each other.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Thank you thank you thank you — for the story that says it all about accountability. Know how you affect each other and the ultimate goal and be accountable for it.

      I too do not like pit bulls which is why I turned down additional work with that customer. Their view was distorted and they did not want to have a different vision.

      I am so grateful for your story today and welcome your insights any time here at Smart SenseAbilities.


  3. The appointment of “pit-bulls” are a common response to lack of productivity and on-time delivery. As you say, it’s only a short-term fix. It is laziness and a lack of personal responsibility on the part of the leader employing such a “fix.” The solution is to create a culture of accountability and responsibility throughout the organization and that begins at the top. The leader might begin by asking themselves, “How am I making this about me?” thus nullifying ownership and engagement among the team members.

  4. Steve riege says:

    Thanks Kate, great story.
    I have also seen leaders vacate their responsibility as a leader by seemingly delegating some level of authority to others who are too eager to please the bosss at the expense of others. Of course the hidden agenda for the leader is to ride in on their white horse of friendship as the good guy leader and stop the bullying if the delegation tactics failed. So either way, the manipulation of the leader has chances of success in a sinister way. Eventually trust in this leader is abandoned by this lack of selflessness.

    Good for you for vacating the opprotunity.

    Anxious to hear more!


  5. Jim Morgan says:

    You and your commenters have thoroughly covered the negatives of this approach, Kate. Good for you for turning down the business, another sign of your character.

    Let’s then focus on what to do instead. In group work, the most powerful approach is to leverage that peer pressure the parents of teenagers so fear, but in a positive way. I strongly urge every team to adopt the use of Action Items. If change doesn’t result from a decision, I say you haven’t really made a decision. So every time a decision seems made, create at least one AI:

    -A specific, single-sentence statement of the task, preferably measurable.
    -The responsible party, either one person, or a subteam with an identified leader.
    -A due date that party and the team agree on.

    Keep all of these in a single spreadsheet ordered by date. When your next team meeting takes place, add the AIs that came due since the last meeting as agenda items. Put the responsible parties on the spot to report what they did or why they didn’t do it. In the teams I have worked with, this has never failed to achieve the goals of the “pit bull” more ethically and reliably, by building team members’ accountability to each other.

  6. I agree with you Kate, the Pit Bull approach has short-lived results and threatens to do more harm in the long term. Companies that take this approach will either end up with disgruntled employees, or spend lots of time dealing with employee turn around and wonder why their retention levels are so low.

    Accountability implies “relationship” while the “Pit Bull” strategy implies “unapproachable” due to unfriendly formality or an outright hostile management style.

    I think you made a wise decision to turn down future work with them, as it would no doubt lead to you own frustration when the client can’t achieve the maximum results possible due to their approach.

  7. Lynne Lee says:

    Harshness demoralizes and demotivates. ” if you need a workplace pit bull, then you probably have the wrong kind of people. And if you have good ones, they won’t put up with that for long.”

    It took courage to turn down follow up work, but it was a wise decision. In my experience work in an environment where values are incompatible is rarely worth it.

  8. Dave Brand says:


    Perhaps I am old fashioned but I believe honey is more powerful than vinegar. Inspiring people to see the good that can come when we accomplish what we set out to do is the path forward IMHO. Positive energy has far reaching benefits, & negative energy has far reaching consequences. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this Kate. Much appreciated. Dave

  9. Liz Weber says:

    Ah Kate I love your posts! Another consultant who is willing to walk away from a client when they “don’t get it.” Sadly too many ineffective managers believe the Pit Bull, bully, witch, task master, or whatever name they want to attach to dictatorial behavior is the right approach to leading others. Sure that type of behavior spikes performance in short spurts, but then it always drops lower than previous levels as employee attitudes and morale drop. As you so rightly state, fear sets it, and a cover my fanny attitude permeates. Who’s to blame? The Pit Bull. But who do they blame? The dang employees. That’s why I say, if you’re not happy with the way your team is performing, something needs to change around here – You! 🙂

  10. Lolly Daskal says:

    Great organizations know in their hearts that when their people are happy they are building an organization with loyal, productive, creative and innovative employees.
    I would strongly warn an organizatin that relishes in creating an atomsphere of “pit bulls”- WATCH OUT….because your competitors may be hiring your best talent away and you are making it easy for them to do so.
    Having “pit bulls” in an organization is creating a fear based environment and it will keep your organization small and insignificant
    Having an organization were people are acknowledged, admired, and connected will get you an organization that is a great success.
    Wonderful post and Kate I love your integrity.
    I wrote a post called LEAD WITH LOVE – I believe that is the way to go…

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I’m with you Lolly. Integrity, compassion, vision, and action – all set the scene for success. I read your post “Lead With Love” and recommend it to all!

      Thanks and I hope to be on your “leadfromwithin” chat on Twitter tomorrow night – Tues 8pm ET.

      Warmest regards,

  11. I couldn’t agree more, while I am very straightforward and will tell people professionally how they need to change a behavior to perform accordingly, I do not believe that having someone to be the “pitbull” does anyone any good, it just makes people work out of fear and eventually that falls apart.

    Very good post!

    • Kate Nasser says:

      Good point Brianne — honesty is not pit bulling. Many people confuse it and think that you have to sacrifice honesty to avoid it. You don’t.

      Thanks for your contribution here.

  12. Guy Farmer says:

    Wonderful article Kate. It’s amazing how many organizations feel they can improve productivity by force rather than by building their people up and giving them opportunities to shine.

  13. Kate,

    I’m thinking that many times leaders, managers and, yes, teachers as early as kindergarten will give someone special authority in a group, class, business unit or team. The idea often is to develop the leadership potential of the individual, as well as inspire team behavior through a peer example.

    At any age, the newfound authority can be misinterpreted, by either the designee or the person assigning such authority. More often than not it is a combination of lack of skill, rather than lack of capability, and always ego and attitude play a big role. The result in either case is the “pit bull” mentality.

    Thank you for outlining the effects of the “pit bull” as warning to those who assign such explicit roles, those who accept such a role, and those who merely fall into this role out of lack of experience.

  14. Cynthia Bengtson says:

    What a relief to hear from so many professionals that this behavior is not the ticket to productivity and production! I see this same mentality in high school athletic coaches and the effects on students is very destructive and many of us parents are trying to fight back and inject sanity and respect back into teen sports. Thanks for the article.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      And thank you Cynthia for your time and the extension of the topic to schools. Children learn what they live and if the authority figures are rough they go out into the world perhaps thinking that “this is leadership”.

      Keep on working to change it. We are on this journey together!
      Warm regards,

  15. Hi Kate

    As author of “Driving Fear Out of the Workplace” in 1991 and again in a revised form in 1998, I’ve been around the issue of pit bulls for quite awhile. I have found that behind the fear of organizational failure, the deeper one is a more personal failure on the part of leaders, the mere possibility of which triggers defensiveness, resistance and rejection. (As you said, the customer didn’t want to change.) What’s under attack, I believe, is the illusion of the leaders effectiveness, and when that illusion is somehow challenged — for example by a lack in others’ performance or a systems problem of some kind, essentially any bad news, the ineffective leaders will go to almost any length to defend their self-perceived capability. That “defending” turns out to be the most aggressive, abrasive stuff and is destructive to the core. That it gets turned into an excuse to “hold people accountable” is pure rationalization. That’s the very opposite of what the leaders are who endorse this approach — they are the ones without the sense of responsibility; for if they had it — truly — they would see the problem in themselves and seek the solution there.

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