Taking Flak For Leadership
Everyone's a critic of a leader's decisions


(permanent link) added: 2011-10-13 15:13:39 sponsor: Earnest (last reply: 2012-12-25 14:21:40)

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"If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

When The Leader makes an unpopular move to further the team's goals, at least one character will disagree and blame them for any and all negative effects, regardless of whether they were known as effects by the leader beforehand. This isn't limited to life or death situations where the leader justifiably did what was necessary and someone had to die. This criticism can be anywhere from a justifiable "What the hell, leader?" to whiny and ungrateful snarking over something petty.

It bears mentioning that Tropes Are Not Bad, and this trope can serve to turn a bland Standardized Leader into a more tragic, Rounded Character. However, this trope can be poorly handled if the criticisms are unfounded, immature or excessive. In extreme cases this snarking can be leveled at the leader for things that might have happened, or for things they had no control over and no reasonable way of foreseeing/predicting. If the snarker acknowledges the leader's accomplishment(s) at all, it will be followed by an "But at what cost?"

The leader's attitude towards these criticisms can be any of the following: silently bearing it without getting more than a quick interjection in, angrily demanding what they'd have done differently (most Commander Contrarians blank at this), or jadedly admiting that they'd do it again in order to get the mission done. One especially poignant rejoinder is for the leader to explain, in detail, how The Chains of Commanding means every mistake is remembered and no ammount of outside recrimination can compare. Their own conscience is a harsher judge.

There's also constructive criticism, which is neither What the Hell, Hero? nor mindless rebellion. In this case, expect the protagonist to act conceited, reject the criticism (on the grounds of, well... "Not Now, Kiddo") and end up screwing things up. So he learns the hard way that he should listen to his teammates once in a while.

This is commonly a prerogative of the Sarcastic Devotee and the Servile Snarker.

This is frequently the response to democratically elected leaders by their opponents, so this trope is very much Truth in Television. Do we want. Real Life section?

Comic Books
  • X-Men leader Scot Summers and team founder Charles Xavier are frequent targets of this.

Film
  • Serenity. After finding Haven devastated by an Alliance attack, Captain Mal decides that the only way to get the Alliance off their backs is to alter the Serenity so it looks like a Reaver ship and go through the Reaver zone to reach the planet Miranda. His crew immediately and loudly objects to this decision, leading to him telling them that they can either go with him or stay at Haven.
    • Earlier in the movie, Mal has to deal with Jayne wanting to leave Simon and River due to the latter being unstable, leading to this exchange:
    Mal: "Do you want to run this ship?"
    Jayne: "Yes!"
    Mal: "Well... You can't..."

Literature
  • Jake got flack in Animorphs for his endgame decisions on the Pool Ship.
  • Disney's old Swamp Fox series had an episode where Marion got flack for forgetting about the war and hunting down the man who killed his nephew. He was smart enough to realise his mistake and get his focus back.

Live-Action TV
  • LOST's Jack Shephard embodies this trope; it's a crucial part of his characterization for many seasons.
    "Everybody wants me to be a leader until I make a decision they don't like."
  • In Scrubs JD spends an episode proving a patient's anosmia wasn't cause by the treatment he gave him. At the end, Dr. Cox calls him out and explains that taking the blame for a moment (even when the patient knows it's his own fault, as it was in this case since said patient had had a lot of nose surgery) is part of the responsibility of being a doctor.
  • In Star Trek: The Original Series, when Spock was in command of a shuttle when his landing party was stranded on a dangerous planet in "The Galileo Seven", he got all sorts of flak.
  • When Data took command in Star Trek: The Next Generation, a number of crewmates questioned his decisions.
  • Happy Days: When Richie gets promoted to corporal in his high school's ROTC unit Potsie & Ralph are happy for him, until the find out he'll make them do follow orders. They decide to Bother by the Book, doing exactly what he says to do rather than what he might mean.

Western Animation
  • Aqualad in Young Justice was on the receiving end of this for not telling his team that he suspected there was a mole. While his reasons for not telling them were perfectly well founded, no one was really interested in hearing them in preference of teenage drama. (Though in their defence, they are teens and Aqualad is new to leading).

Wrestling
  • In a WWE arc, Vince Macmahon deliberately tried to execute this trope on Bret Hart (who had held a perpetual grudge over Vince due to the Montreal Screwjob), appointing him as General Manager to show him how being a good businessman means making decisions that aren't always popular. Indeed Bret very quickly upsets the younger Harts with his decisions. However Vince couldn't resist gleefully firing him before this trope reached any further.

Video Games
  • In Mass Effect 1, Commander Shepard has to make a Sadistic Choice of leaving one of two squadmates stranded on Virmire to die by nuke. Afterwards, the other one will call out Shepard on making the wrong choice, regardless of what you actually choose.
  • Mass Effect 2 sees Shepard be criticized by some squadmates if s/he chooses to give the Collector base to Cerberus.

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