Sliding Scale of Leadership Responsibility

So you're in charge. Especially in a dangerous environment. Are you going to take care of your people or sacrifice them to your convenience? Or something in between?

There's been a lot of fiction written about this. Here are some points along the scale and their associated tropes.

The Superman

This is the leader who makes sure to take the most dangerous or onerous duties on himself. Usually The Hero and often The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor. More likely to lead a handful of True Companions than an army, as he hates the thought of getting thousands of people killed. If he does lead an army, he's likely to be a Four-Star Badass, A Father to His Men and is certain to put The Men First.

The Théoden

This is the leader who takes a roughly equal share of the danger, consistently Risking The King. If Asskicking Equals Authority, this is likely to inspire Undying Loyalty. If the leader isn't as powerful as his troops, this may be seen as Honor Before Reason or even Death Seeking.

The Hammond

Usually a Reasonable Authority Figure who gets out of the way of his men so that they can do their job. He stays back at Mission Control, where he may or may not do much during the mission. Still, if things go badly wrong, he's likely to Go Down With His Ship. Likely to be an Officer and a Gentleman. Most likely to suffer from The Chains of Commanding, though that can effect others as well. If he's significantly stronger than his underlings, this can turn into Orcus on His Throne.

The Magneto

Named after the movie version, not the comic book version. This is the leader who has reserves and isn't reluctant to spend them. His men mean less to him than victory. Often a Glory Hound, General Failure or flat-out villain. In darker works, this can also be a good character who had to do it because the alternative was even worse. Such a character may later be found Drowning His Sorrows.

The Xykon

This is the extreme Bad Boss who sacrifices his Mooks any time they're no longer useful or simply For the Evulz. Always a villain.

Just the Tropes

(This index is sorted from most responsible to least responsible; please add new tropes accordingly.)

Works that Feature this Scale or Movement along it
  • The Lord of the Rings has a recurring Aesop that sliding down this scale will slide you down others. Gandalf vs Saruman. Théoden vs Denethor. And Sauron, when things got tough, would personally step onto the battlefield (though now he can't leave his tower at all).
  • Redcloak's character development in The Order of the Stick is mostly sliding up and down this. He starts as The Hammond, degrades into The Magneto under Xykon's influence and his own bigotry, then has his My God, What Have I Done? moment and jumps up to The Théoden — all without losing his villain status.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Previous films had established that Professor X is typically The Hammond on this scale, but during the Final Battle, he moves up two steps and briefly becomes The Superman. When Apocalypse gives Charles a Sadistic Choice—surrender, or Mystique and Quicksilver will die—Beast and Cyclops volunteer to rescue their teammates, but Xavier stops them because he would rather sacrifice himself than see anyone he cares about get hurt. This turns out to be an unacceptable option because Charles is the Earth's Barrier Maiden (and he obviously doesn't want to put billions of lives at risk), but he then challenges Apocalypse to a mind duel, which creates a much-needed distraction. Xavier gets pummeled on the astral plane, and he only asks Jean Grey—whom he loves like a daughter and is naturally protective of her—to intervene when he knows he's dying.
  • In Warrior Cats, the best leaders tend to be Theodens (who take an equal share in the danger and fight alongside their warriors) with the occasional Superman moment, which is to say that they sometimes take on the most dangerous tasks in order to spare their cats some unreasonable danger. Villains are always Xykons (sacrificing their cats left and right without a care) and Magnetos, who aren't quite as bad as Xykons, but still don't care that much about their followers.