Executive Coach Executive CoachExecutive Coach
Scott Eblin offers his take on lessons in the news and his advice on your pressing leadership questions.

3 Leadership Lessons from Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston

Sony Pictures/AMC

I’m late to the party for what many claim is The. Greatest. Television. Show. Ever. Over the past couple of months, I’ve found myself really getting into Breaking Bad. Thanks to my iPad, it’s become my late night flight obsession on the way home from business trips. I’m about halfway through Season 2 and find myself thinking about bad guys like Tuco at odd times.

The show is extremely mentally sticky. The biggest reason for that is the masterful performance that Bryan Cranston gives as Walter White, the meek high school chemistry teacher who transforms himself into the evil meth amphetamine kingpin Heisenberg.

Trying to read around the late seasons spoilers, I raced through Tad Friend’s profile of Cranston in the latest issue of The New Yorker. My big takeaway from the article is that Cranston is a good guy who has worked very hard over the years to become the sensation he is today, playing TV's ultimate anti-hero.  In reading the article, there were a few vignettes about how Cranston has approached his career that struck me as instructive for leaders who want to have a long term impact (and, no, none of them involved cooking meth).

Here’s what made an impression on me.

Create Your Spots – One of Cranston’s breakthrough roles was playing Hal, the dad on the sitcom Malcolm in the Middle.  He took what the show runner intended to be a very small part and turned it into a mainstay by understanding better than anyone else how he could contribute. Lois, the mother and lead female on the show, was written as a loud, strong and bombastic character. Cranston played Hal as the opposite. He did it so well that after three episodes the head writer was figuring out ways to feature Hal more in the scripts. Cranston created his spots by understanding how he could best add value to the whole. Effective leaders do the same.

Be Methodical – For years now, Cranston has determined what roles he’s going to take based on a spreadsheet that he calls the Cranston Project Assessment Scale. The horizontal axis is criteria like story, script, role, director and cast listed in descending order of importance. The vertical scale is his rating scale from very good to poor.  He gives bonus points for things like money and detracts points for things like time away from home. He passes on any offer that scores less than 16 points and slam dunk takes any project that scores more than 26. That seems like a model for any leader who’s interested in prioritizing their time and attention.

Speak for Your Work – Back in the days when he was making his living doing commercials and guest spots on Murder, She Wrote and Matlock, Cranston sent post cards to casting directors to let them know he was going to be on TV. Cranston said this about his strategy: “I knew ninety-nine percent of them wouldn’t watch, but my face and name would get in front of them, and it would plant the subliminal message, ‘He works a lot, this guy!’” Cranston understood what I’ve written about here before, when you do good work, the work doesn’t speak for itself, you have to speak for the work.

Are you a Breaking Bad or Bryan Cranston fan? What leadership lessons – good or bad – have you gleaned from Walt/Heisenberg or the actor who plays him?

Executive coach Scott Eblin’s goal is to help you succeed at the next level of leadership. Throughout the week, he’ll offer his take on the leadership lessons in the news and his advice on your most pressing leadership questions. A former government executive, Scott is a graduate of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and is the author of The Next Level: What Insiders Know About Executive Success.

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from GovExec.com.
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Sponsored by G Suite

    Cross-Agency Teamwork, Anytime and Anywhere

    Dan McCrae, director of IT service delivery division, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Federal IT Applications: Assessing Government's Core Drivers

    In order to better understand the current state of external and internal-facing agency workplace applications, Government Business Council (GBC) and Riverbed undertook an in-depth research study of federal employees. Overall, survey findings indicate that federal IT applications still face a gamut of challenges with regard to quality, reliability, and performance management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.