Noun. An untalented, benignly useless person, but for the potent services of the natural-born led.
Conflict drives stories. This is a central axiom of fiction. It's why the more conflicted and nuanced a character, relationship, or plot, the more involved the viewer will become. Characters themselves must have some conflict to overcome, be it internal or external, to engage a narrative. This is why when a story focuses on a group of heroes, it is the most dynamic of them
that garner the most attention and love
. Pity that's rarely The Leader
in fiction tend to have two simultaneous burdens on them both in and out of the story: outside of the story they must be The Everyman
as a reader's stand in; they can't be too distinctive without alienating some
audience members after all. So they end up sucking because we suck
. Inside the story they have to bear the qualities necessary to lead. So their temperament
must be emotionally balanced
and morally upright
to keep their teammates in check. Effectively, they don't have the ambiguity of the other heroes. You know that he's not going to fall to The Dark Side
, so his conflicts are less interesting than those not as protected by their morals or Plot Armor
Those being led are under no such yoke. They're free to be a Rebellious Spirit
with a Dark and Troubled Past
, a carefree Cloud Cuckoo Lander
or any kind of character
under the sun. Proof of concept: part of being The Lancer
is an increased likelihood of making Ensemble Dark Horse
. The Hero
has no choice in the matter; if he wants his party to function he has to become The Generic Guy
In a long-running series or mythos, the Standardized Leader
stands out most for not being able to change. And when we say change, we don't even mean his Character Development
. Writers and designers may not even be able to change the Heroes look without backlash from fans who can only accept the original flavor
. The Standardized Leader
is trapped in time.
Averting this trope is not impossible. In fact some characters are Magnetic Heroes
they're quirky and Hot-Blooded
. Heck, some writers will see that second paragraph and think that any character capable of balancing that many variables would make for an Oscar role, making Mr. Ensemble Donut
a delicious jelly filled donut thanks to Hidden Depths
. He just happens to be a Nice Guy
Compare Jack of All Stats
and the The Red Mage
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Anime & Manga
- Shikamaru in Naruto seems to suffer a little from this after becoming the leader for a short while. When in his function as squad leader he makes an effort not to appear his usual lazy self, his position as The Smart Guy is filled by Neji and he continued his streak of being the only member of the cast to not receive a major injury. After the timeskip he seems to have reverted back to his normal self but he still has a lot more boring outfit than anyone else in the Konoha 11, though he receives significant character development during his arc after the timeskip.
- High School Of The Dead plays with this trope in regards to the main character Takashi. He worries that he’s got no real outstanding skills compared to the rest of the (useful) members of his team, yet given the flaky cohesion and variable sanity of the group, his ability to keep everyone on a leash is quite invaluable. The kicker is that while he may be the most centered of the group, he'’s not completely stable either and he knows it.
- He's very worried about that last part. Takashi's aware of how much the others rely on him and knows that if he were to lose it, it would have a domino effect on the team and get everyone killed.
- This is probably what crippled Seiya's popularity in Saint Seiya. Shiryu and Hyoga both get some focus at times and Ikki and Shun are practically Raoh and Toki as kids. Seiya gets the least amount of focus in terms of backgrounds, and even his quest to find his sister takes the back seat and is all but ignored for
nearly fourteen manga volumes the entire manga, being only solved at the end on a borderline Ass Pull.
- The nominal leader (the one wearing the goggles) in any Digimon series, especially Tai. They're usually the most courageous and have the least issues, though the later ones verge more on Idiot Hero. Though this is notably averted with Takato who is the drastic opposite in that he lacks any confidence at the beginning of the story, and does get a good part of development. Then there's Taiki who is far by a super genius compared to the rest of the previous ones.
- Voltron probably fills this trope most perfectly, as Keith is the standard reasonable and noble leader, while Lance was the hothead, Princess Allura was "the girl," Hunk was the "Gentle Giant," and Pidge was the "kid". He is the voice of reason amongst the varied personalities - he plays the role of the audience or writer that they can better empathize with.
- Lampshaded in Sket Dance, where even though it's acknowledged that the Sket-dan wouldn't be able to exist without Bossun's leadership, he's considered really boring compared to the other-members in-universe as well as out. (For example, when an artist wants to created a manga based on the Sket-dan, he completely ignores Bossun, and later Bossun is the only one of the three who doesn't win an award in his class.)
- Sasahara in Genshiken flirts with this trope during his tenure as club president. He's not as militant and flamboyant in his nerdiness as Madarame or as dedicated to his own special subgenre of nerdiness as Ohno or Tanaka, or as talented as Kosaka or Oguie, functioning instead as something of a peacemaker and diplomat among the group. Kugayama even lampshades this when he points out the irony that he attempts to spearhead the creation of a doujinshi (fan-comic) without even being able to draw. However, over the course of the series he discovers a bit of ambition and backbone and ultimately comes into his own as a character.
- Averted in Persona 4: The Animation, where Yu Narukami fits the "calm, collected leader" image, but he has his fair share of humorous quirks to keep things interesting; In addition to being a certified Badass. Also, like the rest of his team, Yu's got his own share of issues. Deep down, he's actually an insecure Broken Ace with a low self opinion. He get's his strength from the bonds he shares with his friends and family, something he never had before coming to Inaba, and thus develops an intense fear of losing people he's close to.
- This is an explicit feature of Cyclops, leader of the X-Men. The traits which make him, or anyone, a good leader are also the traits that make him the least fun at parties. To a certain extent, the two are mutually exclusive. Recent writers have given Cyclops a good deal of character development by embracing this trope.
- Used to great effect at times, however, for comedy; being a standardized leader makes him adept at playing The Comically Serious role. It also helps that, depending on the writer, he has a very dry sense of humour.
- Various events, especially the death of Jean and most recently Av X, have however lead to deconstructing this trope hard. As the only thing he had close to a personal life died, he basically through himself into work 24/7, and as mutants plummeted in numbers and things got Darker and Edgier, he pushed the team into darker territory to keep everyone safe, resulting in some morally ambiguous decisions. He's now frequently compared to Magneto (who he gave a spot on the team to when he came asking for a Heel-Face Turn), due to his willingness to use extreme measures others would find appalling or a last resort.
- Cosmic Boy from the Legion of Super-Heroes.
- Nightwing/Dick Grayson, possibly the default guy for leadership in the DC universe, subverts this astoundingly by being one of the most popular characters. It probably helps that he has a very long, detailed, and sometimes painful history of growing up as a sidekick, and whenever he works with Batman he seems fine with letting Bats take the lead.
- In fact, during the Wolfman/Perez New Teen Titans run, Dick was chosen by Raven to lead the team she assembled because he fit this trope so well.
- Nightwing is so universally accepted as a leader that when three different incarnations of the Teen Titans gathered together to fight a threat, they all took Dick's orders without hesitation or bickering over who should be in charge. Even the Titans that were never lead by him.
- He was almost killed during Infinite Crisis becausehis death would send the most reverberations through the DCU due to all his friendships and relationships with the rest of the characters.
- In most groups he's a part of, Batman will be the leader or at least a leading member. He tends to skirt this trope by maintaining his cold demeanor but the lack of focus means that a lot of his depth is glossed over.
- For the DCU as a whole, Superman often takes this role, due to him essentially playing the role of role model to all other heroes. Over in the Marvel Universe, Captain America plays this role for mostly the same reasons; while Nick Fury often has more authority than him, Fury's also a world-class Jerk Ass that makes him slightly more distinctive.
- Princess Sally Acorn from Archie's Sonic the Hedgehog comics is a rare example of a Standardized Leader who isn't the main protagonist. Less evident in earlier issues, where she was more The Finicky One, though as time passed, her Closer to Earth role eclipsed most of her defining flaws.
- Gold of the Metal Men. The other Metal Men all have very loud personalities (except for Copper, but she's new); Gold's personality seems limited to "being the leader, and all that that entails."
- In the New 52 version, he does have a unique personality: namely, he's a preening narcissist who thinks gold is obviously the best metal, and so appointed himself the leader.
- In The Authority, Jack Hawksmoor takes over as leader after Jenny Sparks dies, and proceeds to be several orders of magnitude less interesting than her. All the other characters have recognisable personalities, story arcs, and motivations. Jack just has his powers and a tendency to brood.
- Jake from Animorphs. While he seems like this to his teammates, his inner conflicts resulting from his position and Shoot the Dog tendencies make him a subversion of this trope. This is especially brought to light when he orders his (Yeerk-infested) brother killed and starts committing war crimes against the Yeerks.
- Tom Corbett, Space Cadet. Despite being the title character, a clean-cut all-American boy and The Smart Guy, his negligible personality is overwhelmed by those of his much more colorful and assertive teammates.
- Bridei of Juliet Marillier's Bridei Chronicles.
- Rand, the hero of The Wheel of Time, is pretty bland. His two best friends have far more unique personalities.
- Rand is arguably a deconstruction of both this and The Chosen One, since for much of the later part of the series, he was literally going insane as a result of all the pressure he was under. He did finally get better, though, and now acts more like a wise beyond his years holy warrior than anything.
- Rhodan, the eponymous character of the long running Perry Rhodan pulp space opera. Much was made of his leadership and decisiveness in the early years, but that eventually got old and now he's basically the reader's projection screen.
- Happens quite a bit in High Fantasy and Science Fantasy series in general. The main hero shoulders the burden of being the standard Campbellian hero, generally a standard white male protagonist who grows from a boy to a man to a Messianic Archetype. His companions' role in the plot is not so strictly defined, and are allowed to be quirky, flawed and hint at Hidden Depths.
- Kill Time or Die Trying: Brad from Part I is a fairly generic student who cements himself as the moral compass of WARP and eventually becomes club president.
- Jason Grace, from The Heroes of Olympus. Well, until he gets some serious Character Development in House of Hades.
Live Action TV
- Firefly averts this trope by showing Captain Mal Reynolds as heavily conflicted with personal demons and prejudices. He is morally gray, (or at least adheres to his own code), has a hotter temper than both his lancer Zoe, and his Big Guy, Jayne (both of whom have fairly hot tempers themselves), and is arguably the most interesting of the main characters on the show.
- Jack of LOST was never without his own issues, but because he had to fulfill the role of Wasteland Elder, he never seemed to face his problems head on and develop like his followers. Eventually, he does manage to subvert the trope, when after finally leaving the island, his personal demons follow him and escalate, and he slowly falls apart. The fandom seems to like him now.
- Star Trek: The Original Series, especially in the early episodes, frequently played up the idea that Kirk (or any Starfleet captain) was obliged to make sure the crew perceived him this way—seeing him as always unflappable and dependable, to ensure order on board ship. According to the writer's bible, the reason Kirk plays so hard and gets into so many romantic entaglements when he's off the ship is to relieve the stress of maintaining this idealized image when on board.
- Several Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes show that Picard is also concerned with how the crew view him. When he needs life-saving surgery, he insists on doing it elsewhere, despite the fact that Dr. Pulaski, who is his ship's CMO, is the foremost expert on this particular procedure. The other doctors end up having her recalled anyway, when a complication arises during the surgery. When Picard hesitantly asks Pulaski about the crew, she calms him down, telling him that he's still the indestructible captain. However, unlike Kirk, Picard is much more experienced as captain (partly because he got his first command at an even younger age), so he comes off as a more wizened officer.
- A number of Red Power Rangers fall into this, most notably Jason in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Scott in Power Rangers RPM, and Jason's Expy Jayden in Power Rangers Samurai.
- Which is in direct contrast to Jayden's Samurai Sentai Shinkenger counterpart; Takeru Shiba, who is somewhat of a subversion by the fact that he appears to try and keep up the trappings of a Standardized Leader but eventually slips more and more as his backstory is revealed. It becomes one of the centerpoints for the latter parts of the show.
- Despite not being a single main protagonist (for there isn't one), Mike can fit this in The Young Ones. He's not standard in any way, but compared to the craziness of Neil, Rick, and Vyvyan, Mike seems much calmer and notably less funny (and by extension, popular). However, he leads the housemates into many of the main events and rather than acting as an audience surrogate, he acts as a set up for some of the jokes, without causing as many laughs himself. He is also involved in barely any of the slapstick violence compared to the other three, but he is usually in charge of what happens in the "story". A lot of people don't think much of Mike, but he provides a contrast that make the other three so funny.
- Despite all this, he does have a personality and gimmick; just not as memorable as the others. Many episodes highlight his role as The Barnum, such as turning Rick's bedroom into a roller-skating dance club or bribing his way through college, as well as his Cassanova Wannabe status (one episode shows him cover his bedroom floor with panties, take out his inflatable sex doll, and put on a tape recorder of a woman swooning "oh Mike, oh Mike", revealing that despite his charm he's as big of a liar as Rick.
- In Sluggy Freelance Torg and Riff actually call a starship leader out on being one of these, and point out that, in a story like Sluggy Freelance, he's pretty much cannon fodder. (Not as straightforward as you might think, though, since the dispute is also about who's the main character in the first place.)
- Averted in The Order of the Stick. Roy is the Straight Man and most level-headed of his dysfunctional adventuring party; however, he is also a determinator, a champion Deadpan Snarker, and has all kinds of issues with his dad.
- Discussed in Joe Loves Crappy Movies, where they decide that the appropriate title for Leonardo and Cyclops is "Jacktard"
- Mark, while far from leading the cast of weregeek, is The Hero and protagonist. His only real trait is his burgeoning geekiness, and his naivety. The other members of the cast get way more personality.
- Matt O'Morph, while not particularly powerful, is the team leader in Everyday Heroes. This is mainly due to administrative competence, people skills, and seniority.
- Mostly averted in Homestuck. The main protagonists, John, Karkat, and Jane are all leaders of their sessions, but have just as many quirks and foibles as anyone else, though they all are kind leaders. The Royalty of Derse and Prospit on the other hand are flat and have little personality aside from being leaders, but to be fair the Kings are only mentioned in passing a couple of times. The Queens are more interesting, but still fit the trope pretty well.