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Unfit for Greatness
Omnium consensu capax imperii, nisi imperasset.
Tacitus, describing the Emperor Galba.

A fundamentally good and well-meaning character who attains (either by chance or through his own effort) a position of great prestige, power, and responsibility—only to cause more harm than good because he doesn't have enough willpower, foresight, and general virtue to handle them right. Despite trying to make life better for others with his power, he ends up wasting it on petty things or unwittingly pushing them into ruin. The tragedy of this character is that he often realizes that he screwed it all up but doesn't know how to fix it (and in this, he is different from someone who's simply Drunk with Power).

Such character may be contrasted by the one who is better suited for greatness but doesn't receive any recognition (at first). Both of them may want the same thing but by a twist of fate, the one who has the power is not the one who can properly wield it.

Compare Leader Wannabe. Contrast Reluctant Ruler and Cincinnatus. See also Drunk with Power and Well-Intentioned Extremist. The Peter Principle is a related phenomenon often observed in the business world (and thus discussed in media about business). Reality Warping Is Not a Toy is a common fantastic variation.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • Irredeemable is a giant extended exploration of this trope.
  • Magog, the Anti-Hero Substitute of Superman in Kingdom Come, turns out to be one of more well-meaning anti-heroes. He really only wanted to Make A Better World by killing The Joker and the like and before he realized he was wrong, he was filling in Supes' shoes, which eventually culminated in the Kansas disaster.
  • The one-shot JLA: Superpower is structured around this trope, in the person of Mark Antaeus.
  • In the show MLP: FIM, one of the main protagonists, Twilight Sparkle, is given the status of princess arbitrarily by the ruler of the kingdom. In the comics of MLP: FIM #17 and #19, Twilight Sparkle goes through a revelation that she doesn't desire to become a princess and that the pressure and expectations would overwhelm her.

Film — Live-Action
  • Invoked in the The Da Vinci Code adaptation: When Sir Leigh Teabing is revealed as the Big Bad, he clamors to Robert Langdon to tell him the location of the Holy Grail, which Langdon holds in his hand. Langdon, in an Ironic Echo simply tells him that the unworthy aren't allowed the knowledge. The Big Bad is then taken away by the London Police.

Literature
  • Robert Baratheon from A Song of Ice and Fire fights valiantly in a just war to dethrone a mad king, but when he takes the throne himself, he proves himself incompetent in dealing with matters of state, spends lavish amounts of money on feasts and tournaments, and his inattentiveness to his own family sows seeds of disaster. He is fully aware he's a horrible king and tries to compensate by leaving details and day-to-day operations to subordinates, which just makes things worse.
  • In Labyrinths of Echo, Chief of the police General Bubuta Bokh. He earned his rank and more for exploits during the war, remains loyal, not malicious (only noisy), his abuses of power are limited to petty embezzlement and nepotism. He's also completely unfit for this job, except the part when he scares arrested folk. Note that he doesn't actually screw anything up (yet)—if only thanks to the work of much more competent lieutenants working under him.
  • King Cinhil Haldane in the Legends of Camber trilogy. Having spent most of his life as a cloistered priest, he is unprepared for the machinations of politics, and is unable to prevent several human lords on his council from staging their own coup d'etat after his death. He also blames Camber (the man who engineered his succession to the throne) for the loss of his vocation and his misery over it, and he distances himself from an experienced courtier's advice when he needs it most.
  • Philipp Tagere from the Arcia Chronicles is a brave warrior and a charming diplomat but turns out to be a weak king who estranges his best courtiers and officers and surrounds himself with yes men. He is contrasted by his two younger brothers, Edmon (who dies young) and Alexander (who succeeds Philipp but is overthrown by external enemies soon thereafter). On the other hand, he is also contrasted by Pierre Lumen, who overthrows and succeeds Alexander and is simply Drunk with Power and has an "It's All About Me" attitude when it comes to state affairs, completely blind to his lack of political skill. Pierre does approach this trope once or twice when he ponders on his and Alexander's differences but he prefers to suppress these thoughts.
  • Gruven Zann from The Taggerung. He's a Spoiled Brat, Dirty Coward, an idiot, claims to have killed the previous Taggerung (who is still alive), and turns out to be a General Failure.
  • Sien Sovv, Supreme Commander of the New Republic in the New Jedi Order series. As noted in the novels, he's not very good at combat command but has very real administrative and logistical talents, and in peacetime he kept the military running smoothly and efficiently, resulting in a force that could respond quickly to hotspots throughout the galaxy with a minimum of wasted expenditures. Unfortunately, fighting a galaxy-wide war against aggressive invaders is far beyond his talents, and in situations where he's forced into direct command (such as the fall of Coruscant) he performs poorly. He much prefers to give his generals and commanders freedom to pursue objectives as they see fit (and with generals like Garm bel Iblis and Wedge Antilles, it's easy to see why).
  • While many characters in the Harry Potter verse wished that Dumbledore was the Minister of Magic, Dumbledore himself believed that the terrible mistakes of his youth were proof that he couldn't be trusted with power. Instead, he dedicated himself to guiding future generations of wizards and witches as a teacher, then as a headmaster.

Live-Action TV
  • In the Supernatural episode "Devil May Care" (S09, Ep02), Abaddon views Crowley this way because he is a salesman instead of a conqueror.
  • In Teen Wolf Derek becomes the Alpha in the Season 1 finale. He then proceeds to fail utterly- he cannot protect his Betas (who proceed to leave him or die or both), gets manipulated by every villain in town, and in the end Scott has to clean up his mess. He's noticeably more well-adjusted when he gives up being an Alpha and choses to act as advisor to Scott in Season 3b.

Theatre

Video Games
  • In Mass Effect 2, Jacob's disappeared father actually crash-landed with his crew on a planet whose environment began destroying their cognitive functions. At first, he rationed the uncontaminated food for the scientists working to get them all off the planet. Then, however, he gave in to temptation and turned the camp and mindless crewmates into his personal kingdom. By the time Shepard and crew arrive, things have gotten bad.
    • The nicer interpretations of Ambassador/Councilor Udina throughout the trilogy paint him as this. He's fundamentally a normal guy, good at bureaucracy, okay at politics, who is thrust into a position of power at way the hell the wrong time, leading him to mouth off to the Council, subvert Shepard at critical moments, and side with Cerberus to plot a coup against the Council for the sake of Earth. He's probably the most effective politician in the series in terms of getting things done quickly and efficiently, he just makes consistently bad judgement calls.

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