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Heroism Equals Job Qualification
One common plot element is a low-level worker who rises to the top of the command structure in his organization through hard work, persistence and skill. This trope is when a low-level worker is suddenly raised to a high position simply because he acted in a heroic manner and saved the day during a dangerous situation, regardless of his actual qualifications.
Consider Bob, a worker on a starship who would like to be captain, but is too young and inexperienced. One day there's a disaster aboard ship and Bob saves everyone by bravely risking his life to shut down the ship's main reactor before it explodes and kills everyone. The ship's captain was killed in the accident and Bob is unanimously chosen as the new captain, even though he's completely unqualified to captain a spaceship.
- In Star Trek (2009), James Kirk gets promoted to captain of the USS Enterprise after saving the Earth from Nero despite the fact he graduated from the academy less then a week earlier and already didn't have a spotless discipline record.
- In Angels and Demons, before it turns out he was the man responsible for it being there the first place, the cardinals seriously consider making Father Patrick McKenna the new Pope for saving the Vatican city from an Antimatter bomb by flying it away to a safe distance in a helicopter.
- In the live-action Thunderbirds movie, Alan Tracy gets made a full member of the team after saving the day... despite the fact he's only 14 YEARS OLD!!
- In the Medals for Everyone ending of Evolution, Wayne is made a firefighter despite having failed his exam at the beginning of the film. He actually shows that he is qualified throughout the film (by driving a fire truck, operating the hose, and being generally heroic), but not in a way that the authority figures would be aware of it.
- The Last Starfighter. During the movie the entire Starfighter corps was wiped out, leaving only Alex Rogan to fight the Ko-Dan Armada. He succeeds in destroying it, and at the end of the movie, the leader of the Star League asks him to rebuild the Starfighter corps. There's just one problem: although Alex is the best Starfighter alive (mainly because he's the only Starfighter alive), he has no particular organizational/military skills or experience, which would be required to perform such a task. (And in this context, "Starfighter" is really another word for "Gunner".)
- In The Phantom Menace, Jar Jar Binks goes straight from being banished to being a general after helping the Nabooan humans and the Gungans get along. And then soon after the droid threat is gone he becomes a senator.
- In Captain America: The First Avenger, Steve Rogers starts out as a fresh private who becomes Captain America for propaganda purposes, but is made an official captain after his rescue of imprisoned troops and capture of HYDRA weaponry.
- Protocol: Goldie Hawn plays a cocktail waitress who stops an assassination attempt on a Middle-Eastern ambassador and is therefore hired by the US government as a top level State Department protocol official.
- At the end of Book 2 of the Lone Wolf series Fire on the Water, Lone Wolf is granted the title of "Fryearl" and custody of the lands surrounding the remains of the Kai monastery after he rallied Sommerlund's Durenese allies and slew Darklord Zagarna with the legendary Sommerswerd.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, episode "Valiant", Tim Watters is promoted to captain of the USS Valiant on these grounds and ends up destroying the ship as a result of poor judgement
- A war hero from the Bajoran resistance to the Cardassian occupation gets a new title dedicated to him, Navarch, as well as becoming the Bajoran liaison to Deep Space Nine. He feels qualified for neither.
- This has tragic consequences in Third Watch. "Doc" is a highly competent and heroic paramedic who regularly declines promotions to supervisor because it is a desk job. He is finally guilted into taking the promotion after nine-eleven but it soon becomes apparent that he cannot handle the job. When he is fired he has a nervous breakdown and ends up taking the fire station hostage.
- Merlin gets his job as Arthur's manservant as a 'reward' from Uther for saving Arthur's life.
- In Irresponsible Captain Tylor, the title character is Kicked Upstairs after accidentally(!) resolving a hostage situtation to command of the Soyokaze. The strategy to sideline him backfires dramatically.
- Subversion: Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: After the first arc ends, the heroes who defeated the Evil Overlord are all in charge of some government department or other. Unfortunately, it turns out that being Hot-Blooded works well for piloting mecha that run on enthusiasm, but not so much for politics.
- One of Ciaphas Cain's earlier adventures recounts that the men who were with him during the desperate defense of the local Arbites (police) station against invading genestealers were all promoted in the end. They were there in the first place because they'd become drunk and rowdy in the local bars and brothels; he was just there to get them out of custody. One Guardsman even notes that his new officer stripes just don't feel right, but Cain makes him a lot happier by remarking that a man of his discipline record won't keep them long.
- General Bubuta Bokh Labyrinths of Echo was a great hero during their civil war and once saved the King's life. The problem: he was good on a battlefield, but as a chief of police this rustic Boisterous Bruiser is comically incompetent — all the time. The only thing he does well is roaring and swearing at perps... or anyone in range who annoys and does not outrank him, for that matter.
- In G. K. Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, Syme protests, and learns why
"Are you the new recruit?" said the invisible chief, who seemed to have heard all about it. "All right. You are engaged."
Syme, quite swept off his feet, made a feeble fight against this irrevocable phrase.
"I really have no experience," he began.
"No one has any experience," said the other, "of the Battle of Armageddon."
"But I am really unfit——"
"You are willing, that is enough," said the unknown.
"Well, really," said Syme, "I don't know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test."
"I do," said the other—"martyrs. I am condemning you to death. Good day."
- An example that shows why this is a bad idea in real life is Ulysses S. Grant, who was nominated as the Republican candidate because of his record in the Civil War, but who lacked the political savvy to keep an eye on his aides, who got the administration embroiled in a series of scandals that marred his reputation. Despite this he has started to become Vindicated by History among some historians.