As Breaking Bad returns to pop culture consciousness, we look back at Walter White’s rise to infamy in search of lessons in EHS leadership.
Breaking Bad is back. The hit TV show from creator Vince Gilligan splashed back onto our screens in October, in the form of “El Camino,” a movie that takes place after the events of Breaking Bad’s 2013 series finale.
Although this new installment revolves around cohort Jesse Pinkman rather than previous protagonist Walter White, the return of Breaking Bad’s gritty universe has us thinking about Walt and his wild journey over five seasons in one of the greatest shows ever made.
Granted, most EHS leaders probably wouldn’t pin their career aspirations on a science teacher turned meth kingpin, but there are still lessons to be drawn from his character that don’t involve a full descent into maniacal villainy.
When necessary, it can be good to raise a little hell. Sometimes, the ends justify the means, and in EHS this can absolutely be the case. The goal is to maintain a healthy, safe, and productive environment, whatever it takes. When the going gets tough, we are the ones who knock.
4 EHS Leadership Lessons Courtesy of Walter White
Here are four takeaways to grow your career and bolster your organization’s programs from our favorite bad guy.
Perfect Your Craft
Walter White refused to settle for a subpar product. Leveraging the full extent of his knowledge and experience, his supply transcended the rest, turning Heisenberg into a faceless legend. From his humble beginnings in a janky RV to his eventual workspace in a state-of-the-art customized facility, Walt always strived to improve.
As EHS leaders, we should have a similar single-minded focus. Change is a constant in EHS, as tools, technologies, regulations, and best practices evolve. The best way to stay ahead of the curve is by taking advantage of every available learning opportunity.
How? Attend EHS and sustainability conferences and association events when you can to learn, grow, and connect with fellow practitioners and leaders. Maintain dialogues with others you respect in the field. Take advantage of on-demand learning opportunities such as the bevy of health and safety webinars that are available.
And, of course, stay tuned regularly to the Antea Group blog for the latest and greatest insights, advice, industry news, and more.
Take Risks to Mitigate Risks
Everything Walter did was (ostensibly) for the long-term prosperity of his family. Diagnosed with terminal cancer, he embarked upon his hazardous journey in the name of setting up his wife, son, and newborn daughter for a comfortable life after his death.
In EHS, we seek to mitigate risks even if it means sometimes assuming risks (of different types) along the way. This might mean implementing a new process or system that requires a cultural shift and new resources. Maybe it means stepping out of your comfort zone and putting on your marketing hat to engage and activate employees around the importance of EHS. Or perhaps this requires testing a new technology for data management that will entail some growing pains for the team.
Don’t let change and uncertainty scare you away from progress. As Walter once put it: “What I came to realize is that fear, that's the worst of it. That's the real enemy."
Engage Your Audience
There were a whole host of characters involved in Walter White’s rise to infamy, forcing him to navigate many delicate relationships and interpersonal dynamics, from Tuco Salamanca to Gus Fring to Saul Goodman and beyond. Collaboration is essential, and making it work means understanding the pains and motivations for each individual you’re engaging.
Keeping stakeholders tuned in requires smart, strategic, ongoing relationship management. EHS leaders will find it far easier to succeed with vocal backing from the C-suite, so you’ll want to showcase the business value of your initiatives and gain executive respect. Keep investors in the loop by showing transparency and reporting what matters to them. Don that aforementioned marketing hat to convey news and initiatives to fellow employees in a compelling way.
Making engagement with stakeholders and corporate leadership an ongoing priority will pay dividends time and again.
Find Your Partner in Crime
Walt might’ve been a spectacular chemist, but his budding enterprise would’ve gone nowhere without the assistance of unlikely partner Jesse Pinkman. Jesse begins the show as a struggling small-time drug dealer (and Walt’s former student), but as he and Walter join forces, both benefit—Walt from Jesse’s practical knowledge and connections and Jesse from Walt’s mentorship and guidance. Together, they were able to achieve things neither could have accomplished alone.
No matter how skilled or capable you are, it’s almost always helpful to partner with a teammate, agency, and/or consulting firm capable of balancing out your weaknesses or playing up your strengths. At Antea Group, we’re accustomed to helping talented EHS leaders round out their strategies and handle tough situations.
No Half Measures
“I chose a half measure, when I should have gone all the way. I'll never make that mistake again. No more half measures, Walter." — Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad
When it comes to EHS, leaders need to be all in. Half measures in professional growth and incomplete programs are bound to yield unsatisfactory results. When you work to hone your craft, take smart risks in the name of progress, fully engage your stakeholders, and choose the right partner to enhance your efforts, you can be confident you’re taking the necessary steps to position yourself for success.
It’s just science.
Looking for other relevant corporate health and safety lessons drawn from pop culture? Come learn how EHS leaders can channel iconic Keanu Reeves characters.
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