Bad leadership can be good

“Breaking Bad,” the popular cable TV show about a high school chemistry teacher turned meth king, completes its run this fall. Given the fact that books were written about the leadership lessons of fictional mob boss Tony Soprano at the height of that show’s popularity, it’s no surprise that similar analyses are popping up about what can be learned from Walter White, the meth magnate played by Bryan Cranston.

“This is my No. 1 show, by far,” Warren Buffett told Buzzfeed. “[Walter White] is a great businessman. He’s my guy if I ever have to go toe-to-toe with anyone.” Writing in Bloomburg Businessweek, Ben Wasserstein interviewed leadership experts who found some admirable and not-so-admirable manage­ment traits in this most unlikeable character:

•  Walter is a ruthless negotiator, but he’s shortsighted, says Jeswald Salacuse, author of “Leading Leaders: How to Manage Smart, Talented, Rich and Powerful People.” His bargaining style maximizes profits — at least for the moment — but inflames rivals.

•  Walter can be a nurturing employer. He empowers and trains Jesse Pinkman even though Pinkman is a disinterested, low-performing student.

•  Walter fails spectacularly in the area of commitment to ethics and integrity, which is the ninth-most-important factor for employees in the Corporate Executive Board’s latest Quarterly Global Labor Market Survey.

•  Walter is entirely lacking in self-awareness. Over the course of five TV seasons, he has lost basic empathy and has no idea how much his colleagues and wife loathe him. A survey of the 75 members of the advisory council to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business said that self-awareness was the top quality recommended for leaders to develop.

•  Walter lacks humility, which “Built to Last” author Jim Collins argues is an essential quality for truly great leadership. In season four, Walter corrects his Drug Enforcement Agency brother-in-law on a fine point of making meth, which ultimately raises the investigator’s suspicions.