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Bad boss: 5 lessons Walter White of Breaking Bad can teach you about leadership gone wrong

Breaking Bad is a TV show that chronicles White’s transformation from being a family man to a drug-lord after he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. His need for recognition overpowers and he becomes an example to others of how not to lead

education Updated: Feb 26, 2017 19:44 IST
Candice D’penha
Candice D’penha
Breaking Bad,Walter White,Leadership
Walter White (played by Bryan Cranston in the TV series Breaking Bad) is everything a good leader should not be.(Shutterstock)

Hello TV series addicts who know Walter White, an overqualified chemistry teacher in New Mexico, who lives with his wife and a teenage son with cerebral palsy. He is not your every man. For the rest of you who don’t know what’s being talked about, Breaking Bad is a TV show that chronicles White’s transformation from being a family man to a drug-lord after he’s diagnosed with terminal lung cancer with just two more years to live. He teams up with his former student, Jesse Pinkman and rocks the meth-world.

Despite our sympathies with a man who wants to secure his family’s financial future before he’s gone, we’re shown a side of White we would never have imagined. His need for recognition is overpowering and he becomes an example of how not to lead. Here’s how it goes.

Trust no one

Walter has trust issues. There are times when he doubts himself too. He trusts people to do what they’re required to, but eventually micro-manages and is the final authority when it comes to decision-making. Who would like to work with such a manager/leader? Shouldn’t people be trusted with the responsibilities given to them?

Become territorial

Overdosing on power, patting oneself on the back, and at one point even mentioning that he wasn’t in meth or money business, but in the ‘empire business’ are all a telling sign that Heisenberg (his meth lord name!) was territorial. He enjoyed exercising power and influence and sought to eliminate (Gus or even his own brother-in-law, Mike) those who were competition or a potential threat to his empire. However as a leader, you shouldn’t be destroying people around you. There are no enemies, rather difference in perceptions. Conflicts should be dealt with an optimistic approach.


If you’re a leader, then demonstrating care and an attitude to nurture goes a long way in earning respect. Heisenberg thinks of Jesse as a pawn on multiple occasions. He goes too far by poisoning Jesse’s girlfriend’s son so that they don’t take up his time and attention off the business. Whether or not you know, eventually people can tell what’s behind the facade. You’ve got to learn to be genuine with no underlying interest in anything other than their welfare.

Lack of self-awareness

To become a leader, a person should know what drives him or her and have an acute sense and understanding of their own inclinations. However, White doesn’t evolve. In fact as the show progresses, he turns into a sociopath in both his professional and personal life with everyone hating him. We see that he’s more interested in being recognised as the most feared Heisenberg. Should you lead like that, you will not know when your doom’s near you. Like a hurricane sweeping away the rooftops, you will be gone too!

Lack of humility

Humble leaders make the best leaders because they know the importance of staying grounded. They admit when things go wrong, appreciate others, accept confusion, trust and don’t judge people. Walter White is an anti-thesis. He’s an egotist and has delusions of grandeur. Mike, a DEA agent and also White’s brother-in-law, admonishes the latter saying, “You and your pride and your ego! If you’d known your place, we’d all be fine right now!” That’s the last thing we hear Mike saying before Walter kills him.

The author is project manager, Work Better Training

First Published: Feb 26, 2017 19:42 IST