Should you do what’s best for the company or best for your career?

I started watching The Wire, a crime drama on HBO, upon the recommendation of my brother, and indirectly by Mr. Barak Obama, himself a big fan of the show.

Police Detective Jimmy McNulty, one of the main characters, doesn’t care about politics and what his boss, “the chief” thinks about him. 

In the first episode we see injustice in action when a murderer is set free after a key witness withdraws her statement. Detective Jimmy McNulty makes the judge aware that the witness withdrew her statement under pressure by the drug lord Barksdale. This particular drug lord is not on the police’s radar and can murder and deal drugs freely.

In response the judge lodges a complaint to the heads of the police department.

Caught off guard and ignorant about this drug lord, the heads shamefully admit that they don’t know anything about this Mr. Barksdale. The senior management reluctantly undertake an investigation into the drug lord’s crimes but can't wait for the moment that they can punish this “punk detective” who embarrassed them and whose ethics resulted in all of this extra work.

Jimmy was doing what he considered the right thing, using a powerful contact to get his management’s attention (two levels up and higher), triggering them to do the “right thing” for society. Yet, by doing so he was upsetting some important people and digging his own political and professional grave.

Jimmy wanted to shake up the status quo. He was passionate about doing the right thing and spent much more time than he was supposed to making sure he did (much more than just 9 to 5)

He had a vision (shared by a minority) and was driving others to realize that vision.

He succeeded in alienating his bosses, but also succeeded in his job, and as a result a small team hidden in a basement was put in place to investigate the drug lord, a kind of a “corporate venture team.”

I am still in Season 1 and have no idea how it works out for Jimmy and the drug lord.

Yet, The Wire triggered me to think about the Jimmy McNulty types in corporations.

Do you know any Jimmy McNulty types in the corporate world?

Is he doing what’s best for the company at the cost of his career?

Should there be Jimmy McNulty types?

Should you do what’s best for the company or best for your career?