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Leader Wannabe

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Mal: You wanna run this ship?
Jayne: Yes.
Mal: Well... you can't.

Who doesn't want to be The Leader? Your team/army/country listens to you and respects you, you're the one to come up with the team's attack plan, and when all of you get publicly recognized, you get most or all of the credit for saving the day because you're the "face" of the team.

Those aren't, however, the only reasons a character wants to be The Leader. There are times when a character resents the actual leader of the group, either due to an ego issue or due to justified resentment of The Leader's methods. The Lancer is likely to be a Leader Wannabe, because of his position on the team. Other times the Lancer doesn't especially want to lead but the Leader assumes he does, causing the Leader to watch his back unnecessarily.

This trope often manifests as the character declaring himself the leader of whatever group he wants to lead, but no one acknowledges him, often because he is either annoying, does nothing to contribute, or a combination of the two. They will often be a Miles Gloriosus.

A Super-Trope to The Starscream.

A Sister Trope to The Team Wannabe, The Chosen Wannabe.

Compare Unfit for Greatness, contrast Reluctant Ruler. If the person who wants to be the leader once was, they may think that they are Still the Leader.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Jason, the Lancer to Mark in Battle of the Planets, is more than a little annoyed that Mark is the leader instead of him.
  • Digimon Adventure: (2020) has Joe Kido. Joe believes he’s obligated to be the one in charge of leading the group as the oldest, but he doesn't have the nerve to actually try to enforce that. Downplayed as the group isn't necessarily against listening to him over their actual leader, Tai; it's just rare for Joe put his own Skewed Priorities to the side and muster up the courage needed to properly take charge of a situation.
  • In Dragon Ball Super, Goku makes Gohan the leader of Universe 7's team of fighters and he goes about making plans and strategies for the team to use in the Tournament of Power. However, the moment the fights start, Goku, Vegeta, Frieza and the Androids go their own directions, leaving an exasperated Gohan to lead Piccolo, Tien, Krillin, and Master Roshi in the main plan.
  • Naruto:
    • Danzo, a secondary antagonist in Part II, is a Konoha Elder who covets the position of Hokage, and so every appearance he makes has him undercutting Tsunade's authority for his own goals. Flashbacks show that his heartless policies have caused the Start of Darkness for villains such as Itachi Uchiha, Kabuto, and Pain. When he does fast-talk his way to becoming Hokage, he subsequently botches it by trying to mind-control the moderator at an international summit and getting caught.
    • Sasuke Uchiha in the latter half of Part II is this. Whether he's not abandoning his teammates for his own goals, proclaiming he'll be Hokage without listening to anyone else, and finally panicking when Obito tries a Total Party Kill and decides to abandon everyone else but Naruto and Jugo to sacrifice one of his snakes in the process. It becomes abundantly clear the leader role isn't what he's able to do.
  • Powerpuff Girls Z: The girls don't have an official leader, but Blossom sees herself as the leader because she's the strategist of the group and Buttercup sees herself as the leader because she's the strongest.
  • Raye in the dubbed version of Sailor Moon would take any chance to complain that Serena didn't deserve to be leader of the Sailor Scouts and try to take over the position herself. This runs a strong contrast to the original Rei, who was merely exasperated by Usagi's immaturity and doubted her abilities until midway through the series. (And this ran a sharp contrast to manga!Rei, who clashed more with Sailor Venus about the right way to lead the team.)

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers: When Hawkeye joined the Avengers, he spent all his time harassing Captain America.
  • Justice Leage Of America: Guy Gardner wanted to be the leader of the Justice League International, so he challenged Batman, the current leader, to a fight. Batman then floored Gardner in one punch.
    • In JLA: Year One, when on a mission together, Aquaman demands to know why Green Lantern is bossing him around. When Lantern replies "because I'm team leader," Aquaman stares at him and then bursts out laughing to say "The Flash is the leader, the rest of us agreed on that weeks ago!" To his credit, Green Lantern accepts this, even admitting to Flash that he was messing up because he was trying too hard to assert his "leadership".
  • Iznogoud: Iznogoud and his "I want to be caliph instead of the Caliph!"
  • Teen Titans: When Damian Wayne briefly joined the Teen Titans (at Dick Grayson-as-Batman's urging), he immediately declared himself leader (since the current Robin is traditionally the leader of the team), but this led to conflict with the Titans and their actual leader Red Robin, (Tim Drake).

    Comic Strips 
  • One strip of Garfield gives us this little gem, when Garfield pats Jon's head and calls him a good boy:
    Jon: Hey, who's the master around here?!
    Garfield: If you have to ask, it isn't you.

    Fan Works 
  • In Avengers: Infinite Wars, Rocket Racoon invokes this when he attempts to claim that he is the leader of the Guardians after reactivating assassin droid HK-47, with the other Guardians immediately rejecting that claim as they're concerned about what Rocket might do with an android assassin under his control.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. When Butch and the Kid return to the Hole in the Wall Gang they find that Harvey wants to take over from Butch. Harvey challenges Butch to a fight, but Butch takes him out with a surprise Groin Attack.
  • In The Fast and the Furious, while he never questions that Dom Toretto is the overall leader of the group, Roman Pearce often tries to claim that he is at least the other leader, even though nobody takes him that seriously. While he was given the chance to lead the latest heist at the start of Fast X, any potential success was undermined when this mission was revealed to be a trap set by Dante Reyes.
  • Poe Dameron becomes this to the Resistance in The Last Jedi, after Leia is rendered unconscious and Holdo takes command. Poe views her as being incompetent and untrustworthy, and starts coming up with missions behind her back to try and save the Resistance, even staging a mutiny late in the film.
  • Serenity (2005): Jayne tries this at one point when he's disgusted with Mal's leadership, providing the page quote above.
  • The Warriors: Shortly after Cleon's likely death, Ajax expresses a desire to take over as Warlord, challenging Swan for the position (as Warchief or second-in-command, the position automatically goes to Swan). The others make it clear they don't support Ajax and he drops the matter, though it serves to cause underlying tension between him and Swan throughout the film.

    Game Shows 
  • Played for Laughs on Taskmaster, where Greg Davies makes it clear on multiple occasions the only motivation he has for rounding up a bunch of comedians and forcing them to do inane tasks for a chance of winning a gold bust of his own head is because he's desperate to have some semblance of power and authority over others, and to "stroke his fragile ego[sic]".

  • Animorphs: Rachel takes over as leader in one book where Jake is away at a family function. Her more aggressive tactics do cause more damage to the Yeerks, but also nearly end in catastrophe, with Cassie captured and almost trapped in morph. By the end Rachel is more than glad to let Jake call the shots.
  • Survivor Dogs: Bella wants desperately to be an Alpha but she doesn't have the wisdom needed to lead a pack. She tries repeatedly to act like a leader but she fails more often than not.
  • Redwall In The Taggerung, Gruven Zann wants to earn the eponymous title, and tries to justify that claim by boasting that he killed the previous Taggerung. This ends up backfiring, as he is surrounded by a tribe of vicious bandits who knew the previous Taggerung and know that there is no way in hell Gruven could have killed him. Gruven ends up getting killed (ironically enough, after they accept his claim as true, then killing him to take the title) by the bandits, who- unlike him- are actually good at fighting.
  • In Warrior Cats, many young cats claim they want to be leader someday, though most of them are just happy to be warriors when they become older. The most notable example of a cat wishing to become leader is the first series' Big Bad: he attempts to secretly kill the Clan leader in order to become leader himself - as second-in-command, he gets the position if she dies.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • After Harmony and Spike break up, Harm decides to become the leader of a vampire den of her own in "Real Me". Upon hearing about this:
      Buffy: Harmony has minions?
    • In "Empty Places", Buffy gets this from some of the Potentials, notably Kennedy. She ends up being temporarily deposed in favour of Faith, who didn't actually want the job.
  • In Justified, Devil is The Dragon to Boyd Crowder. When Boyd goes to prison for assaulting a US Marshall, Devil decides that it is his time to be in charge of the gang. However, Boyd does not plan to be in prison for long and left precise instructions about what is to be done in his absence. Boyd's girlfriend Ava tries to remind Devil of this but Devil refuses to take orders from a woman even if she is speaking for Boyd. Ava refuses to be disrespected and corrects Devil's attitude by hitting him in the face with a frying pan. When Boyd gets out and takes back control of the gang Devil becomes The Starscream and tries to take over by killing Boyd.
  • Legends of Tomorrow: In the second season 2 episode, after Rip's disappearance, the Legends are leaderless for the first time and aren't sure who should lead them. When they meet the far more organized Justice Society of America, the JSA leader Hourman immediately assumes that Stein is the leader, being an older white male (this takes place in The '40s). Stein is flattered and initially tries to lead, only to be proven completely useless when tactical decisions are needed to be made on-the-fly. He then declares Sara to be the new leader. Later on, after Rip comes back, he tries to be the captain again, only to realize the team works just fine without him and takes their cues from Sara anyway. He admits that Sara is the true captain and doesn't quite know where he belongs anymore.
  • In an episode of Leverage Hardison decides that he would like to be in charge of a con for once. He threatens to go on strike if he is not given a chance so the group makes him temporary leader. He approaches the con as if he was designing a video game and has great initial success but ultimately he overcomplicates things and it almost blows up in his face.
  • On M*A*S*H, Frank Burns often would covet being the CO, and would thus relish the times when (as 2nd in command) he would be temporarily put into command (his underlings, not so much).
  • Odd Squad: Olive is a downplayed example. While she does have a set goal of becoming an Odd Squad Director, she doesn't try to actively overthrow Ms. O or any other currently-leading Director to achieve it, nor does she proclaim herself to be the leader of Precinct 13579 at any given time, instead proving her worth by being loyal to Odd Squad and working hard. By the Season 1 finale, her goal is achieved and she becomes co-Director of a nearby precinct along with her partner Otto, taking the place of the previous Director, Orville, who is retiring.
  • Sky from Power Rangers S.P.D.. His goal is to become the Red Ranger, like his father before him, but he blows his chance in the premiere due to failing a Secret Test of Character. He finally achieves this in the finale after Character Development deals with his initial arrogance.
    • In Tokusou Sentai Dekaranger, Umeko somehow got into her head that she's the team leader but clearly nobody holds her to that. The one time she did try to act as leader and issue orders, everybody quickly shot them down because they could easily blow their operation.

  • The Robbers: Spiegelberg, who had the idea of forming a band of robbers in the first place, is more than a little unhappy when his friends chose Karl over him as their leader. Over the course of the play he constantly tries to become more infamous than Karl, openly talks about envying him, and later becomes The Starscream and tries to steer a mutiny against Karl. He fails and is killed by loyal robber Schweizer.

    Video Games 
  • Sten becomes this for a moment in Dragon Age: Origins, when he confronts the Warden before going into the village of Haven and claims he is taking control of the party. He does this because he's of the opinion that you drifted too far away from your original goal of stopping the Blight. Dueling (and winning) puts him back on track. Averted if his approval is high enough, however, in which case he will simply state his opinion and leave it at that.
  • Chapter 6 of Fuga: Melodies of Steel introduces Wappa, the leader of a group of kids from her hometown. When the Taranis accidentally wrecks the treehouse she lives in, she decides to join its crew of children, proclaiming she's the leader that they need... despite constantly slacking off, and to the potential frustration of Malt, who (if still alive) has been the unofficial leader of the team thus far. Even towards the end of the game, she's still convinced that she's the leader.
  • In Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam, it's revealed that Ludwig thinks of himself as the leader of The Koopalings, when in reality, the others consider each other equals.
  • Junpei Iori from Persona 3. He starts off jealous of the main character for summoning their Persona with no effort, their Wild Card ability no one else has, automatically being elected leader of S.E.E.S., and just generally being better than him at everything. Junpei's Character Development involves him moving past his jealousy and accepting that he isn't suited for leadership like the main character is.
  • In Sonic Rush Adventure, Marine thinks of herself as being the leader of the heroes, but everyone else thinks of her as being The Load.
  • Lily in The Walking Dead attempts to lead the group, but most of the survivors, except her father Larry, listen to Kenny instead when it comes to important issues or life-threatening situations.

    Web Animation 
  • Given the rampant amount of Armed Farces and Mildly Military going on in Red vs. Blue, this trope also comes up.
    • Church is normally the Only Sane Man, and usually the one who tries to keep his team organized and on-track. However, any attempts to pull rank fall flat because A) no one really respects him and B) he's not the official CO of Blue Team. Tucker flat-out states that he's never seen Church as a leader. And as Doc says...
      Doc: No, you're a private who has a dead captain. Last time I checked, that makes you a private.
  • RWBY:
    • In Volume 1, Weiss immediately tries to get herself declared leader of the team over the inexperienced Ruby the day after the role was assigned. She fails because none of her teammates even like her — much less wish to follow orders from her — due to her immense ego. Ultimately, Professor Port points out her poor attitude and explains that leadership has to be earned; she isn't entitled to it, and so she should instead focus on improving herself as a person, since it hasn't even been a full day since Ruby has taken on the new responsibility.
    • James Ironwood, who tries to put himself in command of the Benevolent Conspiracy before and after the Fall of Beacon, due to having criticisms of Ozpin's leadership. While already the leader of Atlas' military, a fairly decent fighter and charismatic to those who share his viewpoints, he is not as respected by his colleagues due to his intense stubbornness, paranoid streak, and Control Freak tendencie. These traits only worsen after the Fall of Beacon, which when combined with the toxic culture of obedience enforced in his home nation of Atlas and his inability to admit any shortcomings, causes him to spiral deeper into his already rampant fear and paranoia, which gets exploited by the antagonists at every turn.

    Web Comics 
  • Karkat in Homestuck decides to be the leader of the trolls' session, mainly because he wants to feel important, possibly also because he's too high-strung to leave bad enough alone. Despite how much he talks about being the leader, the fact is everyone mostly just does whatever bullshit they'd have done anyway and doesn't really follow his directions any more than anyone else's... or so it appears. Later chapters have some of the trolls admitting that, against all logic, Karkat actually makes for a pretty decent leader: he keeps everyone on track and his angry ranting and verbal abuse tend to annoy the trolls into actually doing things rather than just wasting time. It helps that Karkat does genuinely care about his friends underneath all the vitriol. Even when he renounces the leadership title due to his perceived failures, his friends still have confidence in him:
    Karkat: Maybe I'll die in the process of saving someone more crucial to victory? If that's what it takes to be a part of this, then so be it. I'm in.
    Kanaya: Statements like that are why you're our leader, Karkat.
    Karkat: I'm not your fucking leader anymore!
    Kanaya: Statements like that are also why you're our leader.
  • Nebula: Jupiter really, really wants to be the leader of the solar system... but Sun's already taken the spot, and he's facing an uphill battle just to get people to want that to change.

    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars: After some early character development, Dinobot no longer tries to seize leadership by force but still desires to command the Maximals whenever Optimus Primal is out of commission. To his dismay, Optimus' appointed second-in-command is Rattrap, whom Dinobot hates. Dinobot respects Primal and his authority, but that is definitely not the case with Rattrap.
  • Numbuh Four of Codename: Kids Next Door wants to be the leader of Sector V, as such, he often wants to pounce onto being The Leader when Numbuh One is absent or busy.
  • In Family Guy, a few scenes suggest that Joe Swanson wants to be the "leader" of his friend group, although he's never actively tried to force that idea on the others and just tells his work colleagues he's the one in charge.
  • Kid Cosmic labels himself as the leader of the Local Heroes, and calls the other team members his sidekicks. However, it's demonstrated that while he means well, he lacks the emotional maturity that comes with leadership. When the townsfolk label Kid as the Plucky Comic Relief of the team, he becomes incredibly disheartened. After the Time Skip, he's matured significantly enough to recognize that Jo, the most emotionally mature and rational person of the team, should be the leader.
  • Texas in Motorcity, while not really resentful of Mike Chilton, believes he should be (or believes he ''is'') the leader. This is notable in "Texas-ify It" and "Threat Level: Texas!" the latter being a Recap Episode in which he claims to have been responsible for several of Mike's accomplishments.
  • Buttercup of The Powerpuff Girls believes sometimes that she should be the leader instead of Blossom.
  • Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!: At the start of Season 3, with Chiro missing and Antauri seemingly dead, Sprx and Gibson spend quite a bit of time arguing over who is third-in-command and should therefore take over, even to the detriment of their attempts to find Chiro. After everything's over, they ask Antauri to clarify for the record who third-in-command actually is. It's Nova.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012): Raphael fits this role in "New Girl in Town", constantly second-guessing Leonardo and being firmly convinced that he'd be a better leader, to the extent that Leo gets sick of it and hands the position over to him. It doesn't take long for Raph to crack under the pressure, unable to think of any better strategy to deal with Snakeweed than "go for the head" and freezing up completely when Mikey is injured. When they escape, Raph has a better understanding of what Leo has to go through every day and admits to Splinter that he can't handle the leadership position.
  • Total Drama
    • In the first season, Heather was this. It probably would have gone better if she didn't treat all her teammates like crap.
    • Courtney tries to take up the leadership position in every team she's on, with mixed results. In Action, she mentions that she was once in an all-girl rock band called the A-Type Psychotic Crazies, but they broke up before their first performance because all of them wanted to be the lead singer and no one wanted to be back up.