What a CEO Can Learn from “Better Call Saul”

Have you ever noticed that the most conscientious employees – are not always the ones that follow the rules? In fact in order to be fully competent in most roles – it is necessary to improvisebetter-call-saul-header2 when needed. The idea of breaking the rules to disrupt is not a novel idea, and it makes sense given that, from my point of view – the most critical responsibility, really the role of the CEO is the manage the necessary risks their organization takes in order to achieve the desired returns on the company’s assets. So what does this have to do with “Better Call Saul?”

In the current second season, episode 3 that aired last night, Jimmie McGill/AKA Saul Goodman struggles against the rules, figuring it better to ask forgiveness than permission, gambles what is likely his job – and perhaps even his career to test whether he can prove his point.  Despite the fact that his gambit pays off, his choice portends to signal his demise. On the surface, his boss, Cliff Main (played by Ed Begley Jr.) has every right to dismiss him on the spot for being reckless and probably insubordinate in outstepping his authority.

But upon closer examination, two things come to light. First, the conversation with the firm’s CEO – that preceded Jimmy’s decision to play his hand with a wild-card (airing a commercial – that would likely be seen as controversial by his boss) – demonstrates the ambiguity that most leaders exude. We think we are clear-enough in explaining what we want – only to see our intentions mishandled or shredded to pieces. We ought to remind ourselves that “the reader is always the author of the text.”   As CEOs we need to be “meaning-makers” not just opinion dispensers. Jimmy knew fully-well that his behavior was contrary to what Cliff had suggested regarding any television commercials, but the message was far less clear and unambiguous than it might have seemed when he gave it. As CEO are you a meaning maker – or an opinion dispenser?

The second thing – is that Jimmie was clearly intentional is his bucking the system. He is innately a disrupter. He cares deeply about accomplishing what needs to be accomplished. The problem is that, while he is aligned with the objectives of his boss (and the firm in kind) – his values are way out-of-whack. It’s the thorough lack of understanding about “why” things are or are not done at the law firm of Davis & Main. Part of the problem is that the firm opportunistically hired a somewhat quirky employee whom they knew represented something of a risk. That’s not a bad thing. But they were completely ignorant to the fact that Jimmie’s values are completely out of sync with theirs. It’s the old adage – we hire for talent and fire for behavior. Behavior is, of course, driven by our values. Jimmie cares, but not about what the firm cares more about – particularly, protecting their extremely valuable reputation. Jimmie seems to know that reputation is an asset you have to expose to risk if you want a solid return. Cliff’s happy where he is – and has very little risk tolerance about much these days. He is not interested in the entrepreneurial forays that drive Jimmie. Moreover that meaning, while seaming obvious, was not part of the message he communicated to Jimmie regarding the use of television commercials. As a CEO are you guilty of believing the meaning behind your decisions is transparent? Or do you feel your values are obvious?

Apart from the culture dynamic – is the question about the role of entrepreneurship in your company. A sure sign that a company is headed for a slow steady demise – is when the entrepreneurial forces are weeded out. It’s theAdizes corporate life-cycles at play. Companies go past their prime and become aristocracies and bureaucracies on the way to becoming dinosaurs. We need some disruptors and innovators. And unless we have a values-driven culture that supports this – we find ourselves either inviting intolerable feats of chaos – or wallowing in the status-quo of our comfort zone. As a CEO are you building fences around your comfort zone and keeping the innovators out? Or are you fostering an environment that welcomes disruptors and gives them latitude to break some of the rules without compromising your values?

If your organization is stuck in a rut – perhaps you had Better Call Saul.

Or, alternatively – you can visit my website at www.TheBullFrogGroup.com – for ideas on how you can get your company moving again.

By |March 2nd, 2016|The BullFrog Blog|0 Comments

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