Paul Tucker was supposed to be replacing Mervyn King as the governor of the Bank of England. The Financial Times supported him. He was the bookmakers' favourite. After studying mathematics at Cambridge, Tucker had worked his way up at the Bank over 32 years and had some significant achievements to show for it - not least, reinvention of the Bank's market intelligence function. Ok, there was a dollop of something dubious on his copybook, but in otherwise an unblemished career, the Libor scandal could surely be overlooked?
And yet, Tucker isn't going to be governor of the Bank of England. Mark Carney is.
So, what next for Paul? Does he throw his pacifier, irately, onto the ground and leave the Bank as many are predicting? Or does he breathe deeply and assume a new submissive posture below Carney?
John Nicholson, chairman of organizational psychologists Nicholson McBride, says the emerging cultural zeitgeist dictates submission. "How you react in this situation is about the size of your ego and how well you control it," he says. "The ability to control your ego is at an increasing premium. Headhunters and companies are less interested now in the big egos and more interested in the company men and women who will do their best not just for themselves, but for their managers and their shareholders."
Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, is also of the submissive school. "It's either that Tucker wasn't good enough, or simply that there was someone better. If it's the latter, then it happens all the time and he shouldn't throw all his toys out of the pram and leave," he says.
"Leaving in anger is the sort of thing investment bankers do and it won't do Tucker any good," Furnham adds.
Tucker's situation resonates with the average egocentric investment banking professional. What happens when you don't get promoted? When you don't receive any kind of bonus? When the role you wanted is handed to an external hire who's been brought in as an upgrade?
Nicholson says the approach is changing. "The huge ego has had to be subordinated to economic reality and economic reality isn't great right now." He points to the situation at accounting firms, where in the past it was usual for individuals who didn't make the partnership to move on. Now, they are more likely to quietly stay in a diminished face-saving role, says Nicholson.
Whether Tucker and the zeroed bankers hang around is likely to be partly due to the amount of encouragement they receive. Peter Evans, a coach who works with hedge funds and investment banks, says he was recently brought in to coach a banker who hadn't been promoted to MD: "He was technically excellent and good at execution, but the rest of the management team didn't really know him and it was felt that he wasn't ready to go out and talk to clients. However, they absolutely didn't want to lose him either, and so we built a programme around showing him how he could succeed within the organisation."
One year later, the banker was promoted, says Evans. "The company was desperate to keep him and gave him clarity about what it would take for him to advance."
If you receive a zero bonus in January, the chances are that your company isn't desperate to keep you and is attempting to induce a commodious exit. In Tucker's case, however, the Bank has good reason to keep him around: Carney can be seen as a Treasury hire and Tucker's retention should help calm fears that the Bank of England is about to be subjugated to its departmental rival. George Osborne has expressed the hope that Tucker stays.
In the case of passed-over bankers, Evans says post bonus narratives will depend upon the dimensions of their egos. "How you react will depend upon how much you care, and how bothered you are about how others see you," he says. In other words, if you're paid zero, don't tell your peers.
Falling from grace will be most challenging if you're a narcissist, suggested behaviourally by traits such as self-admiration, talking too much, demanding special treatment, temper tantrums and perfectionism.
Can narcissts accept demotion? There is evidence to suggest they can, says Nicholson. However, changing is easier if narcissists manage their own expectations and that of their public, says Nicholson. There are still two months to bonus time. Start pre-empting the zeroes now.