I have worked in the City for 20 years, and am increasingly plagued with the idea that I’ve been held back by my integrity. I know this sounds stupid: our bank talks a lot about the importance of integrity, and has even sent all of us on integrity courses. But these are a waste of time – integrity is something you either have or don’t have. What troubles me is that looking around my colleagues I see that it is the selfish people with no backbone who have advanced faster on the career ladder. They appear to feel no guilt about their actions, which translates into them being happier and much better suited to professional life. Please let me know if you think I am going mad. Or is it time for me to get out?
No, I don’t think you are going mad, though I do think you may be engaging in some perfectly natural post hoc rationalisation. We all tell ourselves comforting stories to explain why we aren’t doing better. The most common story goes: “I’m no good at playing office politics.” Your story is an extreme version of this: “I’m no good at playing the bastard.”
If this is all, there is no reason why you shouldn’t stay in your current job and continue to congratulate yourself on your moral superiority to compensate for your lack of advancement.
However, if instead you are genuinely concerned about the morals of those above you, the problem is more difficult.
For a start you need to be clear about what you mean by a lack of integrity. If your bosses are stealing shareholders’ money, you must either blow the whistle or leave or both. But if they are simply more motivated by self-advancement than by bettering the lot of all mankind, then I’m surprised it has taken you 20 years to work this out. To succeed in the City – or in any business – one needs to want to succeed desperately. And that generally means being more self-regarding than, say, Mother Teresa.
Beyond that, I don’t accept that everyone who does well in the City is particularly horrid. In fact, there is something rather good about having all that competitiveness so explicit, as it means that if people are going to be nasty then they are nasty in a fairly direct way. In my experience a higher percentage of selfish people are to be found in academe, where they fight hard and dirty because the stakes are so low.
Perhaps all you are really saying is that you despise your colleagues or that you are sick of banking. In that case you have reached the end and must go.