There are only two episodes left of Breaking Bad. The show’s complex main character, Walter White, is comparable to the Devil himself. He’s got a terrible reputation. But if Walt had only adhered to some of the messages we’ve shared here at ReputationManagement.com, things might not have been so disastrous. Of course, the show might not have been so captivating, either. Still, there are several reputation management lessons we can learn from Walter White.
Reputation Management Lessons for Walter White
Always actively monitor your reputation, even after you land a job. Before the show began, Walter White was a genius chemist at a start up company, Gray Matter. Due to a difference in opinion with his partner, he elected to leave and sell his share of the business. From there, Mr. White became a high school chemistry teacher, a position he felt was beneath him. His boredom with teaching and a terminal cancer diagnosis led him to illegally cook methamphetamines, taking his life down a disastrous path. Yet this all might have been avoided if Mr. White was proactive with his resume and actively looked for a new challenge to satisfy him.
Many people make similar mistakes, perhaps not on the same explosive scale as Mr. White, but certainly in settling on a job that might be beneath them. They manage their reputation while they’re job searching, but once they secure a position, put reputation monitoring on the back burner. This is a big mistake. Companies are proactively searching for new quality candidates via social networks like LinkedIn, as well as in Google results, so you may be limiting future employment opportunities by not being proactive in monitoring your reputation.
Your employees contribute to your reputation, and they must be given guidelines for public representation. Walt didn’t exactly make training his staff a priority in season one. He allowed his only employee, Jesse Pinkman, to try to sell their new product to Tuco Salamanca, the biggest drug kingpin in Albuquerque. It seems that trying to sell your goods in someone else’s territory is frowned upon in the drug trade, and that led to Jesse learning that lesson in an unpleasant manner.
We’ve seen this situation before, when controversial behavior at a trade show cost three different people their jobs. To avoid reputation damage from employees, companies should always give share guidelines or even a handbook explaining expectations for proper behavior. These should include social media guidelines, as well as an explanation of how to act when representing the company outside of the office.
We live in a forgiving society. If you make a mistake, own up to it. In season two, after being heavily invested in the production and distribution of his “blue sky,” Walt found himself kidnapped and held hostage in Mexico for roughly 72 hours, a situation that was extremely difficult to explain to his wife. Instead of coming clean and admitting his mistakes, Walt devised a plan to strip naked and walk through a supermarket in an effort to convince his family that he had amnesia. That stunt landed him in therapy, and his wife eventually learned the truth anyway.
We’ve seen plenty of evidence that coming up with a lie or passing the buck will only make things worse for you or your company down the road. Trying to blame an error on interns or coming up with an excuse that your account was “hacked” rarely solves problems, and is likely to come back to bite you in the future. If you’ve made a mistake, the best move for your reputation is to show contrition, and vow to not make the same mistake again.
Good deeds build a positive reputation. Walt had an opportunity to do a good deed when Jane, his business partner’s girlfriend, choked to death in front of him. He failed to help her, as she had begun to drive a wedge between them. This was a turning point in which we see Walt head over to the dark side.
Though Walt’s reputation was hurt by his dark deed, we know that good deeds can build a positive reputation. We have seen this with Yelp reviews, airlines checking when people are discussing their services on Twitter, a Cincinnati casino giving away an extra million dollars, and even non profit companies who are simply out to help bring a family member home. The reputation of these organizations has been greatly helped by their thoughtful actions.
Control your emotions. Outbursts will only get you into trouble. Walt’s brother in law, Hank, is a DEA agent bent on stopping a mysterious drug lord who, unbeknownst to him, is actually Walt. Rather than laying low, Walt can’t help himself and ends up revealing too much during a dinner party as he criticizes the drug lord Hank is pursuing.
We have seen this over and over with athletes on Twitter, where there is nothing to gain by making controversial statements. Before you put something on social media or release an advertisement, it makes sense to take a step back and decide if what you put out there is going to offend anyone or reflect poorly on you. It also never makes sense to mock your competitors. Focus on what you are good at, and don’t worry about anyone else.
Reputation Management Lessons from Walter White
We can all agree that Walter White has turned into a despicable human being, but remarkably, he has done one thing right from a reputation management perspective: he has protected his brand.
Your brand is everything, so do everything in your power to take care of that brand. As Walt’s drug empire expanded, he took on not only a new name, but a new persona as well. He was simply known as “Heisenberg.” That name began to take a secret, almost mythical meaning in the drug trade as no one knew who Heisenberg was or if he actually existed. That said, when Walt decided that it would be in his best interest to reveal his identity, or brand, in a business transaction, the delivery was incredible.
Being true to your brand and monitoring what is being said about you and your company online is essential in our digital age. If you neglect your reputation, you could be slowly destroying the business you invested your blood, sweat, and tears building.
No one knows exactly how this riveting series will end over the next two weeks, but it will quite interesting to see if Walt somehow thinks he can salvage his family and his reputation. While we would love for our readers to absorb some of the tips we have tried to convey regarding reputation management, I’m personally thrilled that Walter White didn’t follow them, as it has made for incredibly compelling television.