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Morrigan: Of the two of you that remain, are you not the senior Grey Warden here? I find it curious that you allow another to lead while you follow.
Alistair: You find that "curious," do you?
Morrigan: In fact, you defer to a new recruit! Is this the policy of the Grey Wardens, or simply a personal one?

In most organizations, when a leadership position opens up, the most senior member or members (where "more senior" means "enjoying a higher standing in the organization's formal or informal hierarchy", not "biologically older") rise up to take over it. This trope is about such veterans who voluntarily let a more junior member take charge, remaining in a subordinate role themselves despite their seniority, usually because they deem their own leadership skills insufficient or just inferior to the newbie's.note  In Video Games, the rookie is often the Player Character, while the senior subordinate is a mentor-type NPC and/or a Crutch Character.

Very often goes hand-in-hand with Rookie Red Ranger, The Chain of Command, Declining Promotion, Field Promotion, Rank Up, and/or Gracefully Demoted. See also Actually, That's My Assistant, where a senior character pretends to be a subordinate to fool a newcomer.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Golden Wind: At the end of Part 5, the protagonist Giorno Giovanna, who's only been a member for around a week, becomes the new leader of Passione over any older members (well, the one's that survived) thanks to his Stand Gold Experience Requiem and his charisma. The spin-off Purple Haze Feedback reveals that Jean-Pierre Polnareff, who has years more experience as a Stand-user but was the team's 11th-Hour Ranger, was picked over Guido Mista as Giorno's number two, though that mainly has to do with Mista not wanting to be rank two since it's a divisor of four, the number he fears the most.
  • In Shirobako, Ogasawara is usually by Musashino Animation as their ace animator, and she actually led the department during the Exodus! project. In the following project Third Aerial Girls' Squad, however, she relegated herself to a key animator in order to reacquaint herself with the basics.
  • Transformers:
    • Transformers: The★Headmasters: Early into the series, Autobot supreme commander Convoy (Optimus Prime) is killed preventing the super computer at the heart of planet Cybertron from going berserk. However, mid-way through the series, Cybertron is destroyed anyway, and Rodimus Convoy/ Rodimus Prime resigns as leader of the Autobots and departs to seek a new homeworld for the Transformers. His successor is Fortress Maximus, who only recently left his homeworld of Master alongside his fellow Headmasters to seek out the Autobots. More senior Autobots like Ultra Magnus and Metroplex accept him as their commander for the remainder of the series.
    • Transformers: Super-God Masterforce: At the beginning of the series, the Pretender Metalhawk is the highest-ranking Autobot on the planet. However, after Ginrai joins the cast, Metalhawk passes the role of field commander to him and spends most of the remaining episodes acting as Mission Control, despite Metalhawk being a veteran warrior millions of years old and Ginrai being a 19-year old Japanese truck driver. His reasoning is simple: as a Godmaster Ginrai is vastly more powerful than Metalhawk is, and his strong battlefield presence and leadership just needs proper guidance Metalhawk can best offer as Mission Control.

    Comic Books 
  • Pathfinder: Ezren is an elderly wizard with decades of academic learning. He defers to the much younger sorceress Seoni as the de facto leader of the comic party because of her proven skills at keeping the other party members' wildly divergent personalities in check.

    Fan Work 
  • This Bites!: Following the events of Whiskey Peak, Luffy picks Cross (who joined in between Arlong Park and Louge Town) to be the Third Mate (essentially the fourth-in-command after him, Zoro, and Nami) along with the role of tactician for his ability to plan out attacks during their last battle. When asked by Luffy if they are okay with a more rookie member being picked for command over them, Usopp thinks it over and in his fake bravado says he "abdicate" the position of third mate while Sanji says that he's fine with it as long as Cross doesn't screw up on his job.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Aliens: Lt. Gorman is knocked unconscious, so per military procedure, Corporal Hicks takes over as the next most senior member (Sgt Apone had already been killed by the aliens). While Gorman is ultimately proven to be a good man, he's inexperienced and in over his head, so once he wakes up, he steps back and pretty much lets Hicks call the shots. He's also aware that his poor performance when the aliens attacked didn't win him any points with the surviving members, and they'd probably ignore him and follow Hicks' orders anyway.

  • Discworld:
    • In Guards! Guards!, Frederick Colon is a Sergeant of the City Watch when Carrot Ironfoundersson joins the force. However, while Colon remains a Sergeant until his effective retirement, Carrot quickly proves himself extremely capable and is eventually promoted to Captain.
    • In Monstrous Regiment, Sergeant Jackrum is not only several decades older than the greenie Lieutenant Blouse, he later turns out to have mentored half the generals in the Borogravian Army from when they started out as privates.
  • In Halo: First Strike, Lt. Haverson is the highest-ranking member of the surviving UNSC personnel, but Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 is nonetheless put in charge: Haverson is an intelligence officer with little experience leading combat operations, and thus he's more than willing to relinquish operational command to the Old Soldier who's been fighting longer than Haverson's been alive.
  • Honor Harrington:
    • In Echoes of Honor, the seniormost officer on Hades is Commodore Jesus Ramirez, who, due to prolong therapy, reached his rank when Honor, also ranked commodore, was a preteen. This would normally mean he would take command of the planned Great Escape, but he cedes that right to Honor since her knowledge of space combat is several decades more current than his.
    • In Mission of Honor, right before the Battle of Spindle, Vice Admiral Khumalo formally turned tactical command over to Commodore Terekhov. Partly this was for the practical reason that Terekhov's flagship was better suited to running a Manticore Missile Massacre than Khumalo's outdated ship, but mostly it was because "Augustus Khumalo was too self-honest to pretend he was in Aivars Terekhov's league as a combat commander".
  • In the Republic Commando novel Hard Contact, clone commando Darman looks to Etain Tur-Mukan as his lawful military superior: under the terms of the Military Creation Act, all Jedi assigned to the war effort were made officers in the Grand Army of the Republic. Poor Etain is just a Jedi Padawan who was on assignment with her now-deceased Master when the Clone Wars started and barely even has any idea what's going on.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Esmeralda, the headmistress of Kimberly Magic Academy, is one of the youngest members of the faculty: as a student she was an underclassman to Theodore McFarlane, and some of the other teachers range from decades to centuries older. But mages believe strongly in Asskicking Leads to Leadership, and she's one of the most powerful mages in recorded history.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Beast Arises: After the Imperial Fists' near-annihilation by the Beast's WAAAGH!, their last survivor, Captain Koorland, led the Fists' successor chapters to the rescue of the Sol system. A subsequent Military Coup against the Imperium's ineffectual leadership made him Lord Commander of the Imperium (military dictator). When Vulkan, the Primarch of the Salamanders, was subsequently discovered fighting the orks on Caldera, Koorland's political opponents tried to get him to take over. Vulkan instead used his authority as one of the God-Emperor's sons to order them all to obey Koorland, an ordinary Space Marine, and went into seclusion, emerging only to lead the assault on the Beast's capital world under Koorland's command.
    • Immediately before the Ciaphas Cain novel For the Emperor, the 296th and 301st Valhallan Regiments were almost destroyed by a Tyranid attack, and so were salvaged by merging the two together. One of the many reasons why this went poorly was that the colonel had less combat experience than the major: Colonel Regina Kasteen's 296th had been a garrison support regiment whereas Major Ruput Broklaw's 301st had been a planetary assault formation. However, Kasteen had three days' seniority over Broklaw—a phrase here meaning that Kasteen's immediate superiors were eaten by tyranids three days sooner than Broklaw's.
  • The Wheel of Time: The rebel Aes Sedai faction select Egwene, a teenage apprentice, to become their leader, even though some of them are centuries-old political veterans. It's ostensibly because she's powerful and wasn't involved in the original schism, but Egwene soon realizes they want a puppet who'll take the fall if their rebellion fails. She becomes an Apparently Powerless Puppetmaster instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • 3rd Rock from the Sun: Tommy is the oldest of the aliens, but both Dick and Sally outrank him. Slightly zigzagged since despite being the oldest, his human form is the youngest, which is a constant source of frustration for him.
    Tommy: This sucks. I'm older than any of you but if I want to see an R-rated movie I have to go with Mrs. Dubceck.
  • Heroes: The tie-in comics shows Tom Drake (a forgettable character who briefly appeared once in the television series), a Red Shirt who worked for Primatech, had been with the company for decades but was never promoted to agent or even team leader. When he tells stories of Glory Days, the team leader responds with "Before my time you know that." After surviving a mission that was successful despite heavy casualties, he was offered a promotion to agent. He turned it down to join the Kill Squad under the leadership of the same younger team leader that led the mission he miraculously survived.
  • The Office (US): Dwight Schrute, and his insistence that his unofficial position of "Assistant to the Regional Manager" somehow made him "Assistant Regional Manager" at Dunder Mifflin. Eventually subverted in the series finale when he is promoted to Regional Manager.
  • Stargate SG-1: Downplayed during seasons 9, 10, and the finale movies. Samantha Carter has the same rank as newcomer Cameron Mitchell, lieutenant colonel, as well as greater seniority within Stargate Command, having been part of SG-1 for eight years before being reassigned to Area 51 (due to Amanda Tapping getting pregnant during the season break), while Daniel Jackson and Teal'c are civilians. Officially, Cam is assigned as the unit commander of SG-1, a post he requested as his next assignment after he was shot down flying an F-302 in the Battle of Antarctica, but in practice he appears to view the legacy members of the team as his equals.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Justified when Miles O'Brien chews out an Ensign Newbie for a maintenance mistake. O'Brien's official rank in the series is senior chief petty officernote , but his staff position on Deep Space 9 is Chief of Operations (meaning he's the maintenance lead for the entire Space Station), and an unofficial but traditional part of a senior non-commissioned officer's job is tutoring junior commissioned officers on how things really work outside the Academy. Still, when Nog is accepted to Starfleet Academy, Miles somewhat ruefully realizes that "When he gets back, I'm going to have to call him 'sir'."
    • Star Trek: Discovery: Due to Discovery not having a permanently assigned Captain during seasons 2 and 3, the person sitting in the Captain's chair is not always the most senior officer on the bridge.
      • During his temporary assignment to Discovery, Captain Pike sometimes allowed Commander Saru to man the chair as Acting Captain, wanting to respect that Saru is the highest-ranked officer permanently assigned to Discovery.
      • When Admiral Cornwell joins the crew for a mission, she rejects Captain Pike's offer to take over the Captain's chair, saying that Pike is the best person for the job.
      • When Commander Burnham is demoted, Captain Saru selects Ensign Tilly to be his Acting First Officer. Tilly is hesitant as she is the lowest ranking member of the bridge crew, but the others encourage her to take it, saying that she has the makings of a great future Captain and they're happy to have her as Second in Command.
      • And then to make things even more complicated, Burnham gets promoted to Captain after Saru temporarily returns to Kaminar — and when he returns to Discovery, he becomes Burnham's XO.

    Video Games 
  • Ace Combat 5: The Unsung War: After Captain Bartlett is shot down, the command promotes Kei Nagase, the most senior surviving cadet in the Wardog Squadron, to its temporary leader (until another officer arrives from the mainland to take charge). Nagase, however, is plagued by Survivor Guilt and immediately defers command to Blaze, who is actually the most junior member, over even Chopper (who concurs silently). The command lets it slide because they are in the middle of battle, and later makes it permanent when Blaze delivers results.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Dragon Age: Origins: After Warden-Commander Duncan and the rest of the Grey Wardens fall in the Battle of Ostagar, Alistair remains technically the most senior Warden in Ferelden, but passes effective command on to the freshly-recruited Player Character instead, explaining that he is not much of a leader (and his "seniority" is all of a whopping six months, so he doesn't really know much more than they do anyway). This proves to be a prudent decision, as the Darkspawn Chronicles DLC shows that had the Warden died and Alistair remained in charge, the latter would not have managed to defeat the Blight, despite coming tantalizingly close.
    • Played With in Dragon Age: Inquisition: At the start of the game, the Inquisition is so new an organization, any differences in seniority between members are marginal, at best, but the old Chantry personnel, like Cassandra and Leliana, definitely hold the sway. The Herald, despite leading the Player Party on exploration excursions and making important tactical decisions, is technically the lowest-ranking member of the leadership, having been forcefully conscripted for their unique ability to close Fade rifts. Their standing, however, makes a 180-degree turn by the time the Inquisition relocates to Skyhold, as the entire organization now recognizes their leadership potential, and its founders proclaim the Herald their supreme leader.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim: This is typically how all questlines involving a faction end.
    • Downplayed with the Companions, as the Harbinger is more of a senior adviser than a leader. Nevertheless, the Dovahkiin was the newest member of the Circle, and he and Aela were the only ones who helped vanquish Kodlak Whitemane's wolf spirit, and she doesn't want the position, so she passes it to you.
    • With the Dark Brotherhood, the Dovahkiin is chosen by the Night Mother as her Listener while Nazir handles day-to-day operations.
    • In the Thieves Guild, the Guild unanimously agree to make one of the three Nightingales the leader. Karliah doesn't want it, Brynjolf feels he is more suited to follow than to lead, which means it passes to the Dovahkiin by default.
    • In the College of Winterhold, the Dovahkiin is named Archmage by the Psijic Order at the end of the questline, rather than a more senior professor such as Tolfdir.
    • In the Civil War, General Tullius and Ulfric Stormcloak promote you several times over the course of the questline, until you're eventually elevated to the same rank as their right-hand soldier, a Legate like Rikke or a Stormblade like Galmer Stonefist, ahead of soldiers who have been in the service longer.
  • Fallout 4 has you become the new General of the Minutemen within the first hour of the game, at which point you spend the rest of your tour of duty taking orders from your #2 guy, Preston Garvey. Ironically, Preston appointed you as General because he wasn't comfortable with being a leader. Perhaps everyone else he tried ordering around had the sense to just tell him to stuff it.
  • Halo: In the final year of the Human-Covenant War, Frederic-104 is promoted to Lieutenant, Junior Grade, making him the Spartan-II with the highest military rank and the only one to be an actual officer. However, Master Chief Petty Officer John-117 had already been leading the Spartan-IIs as a whole for nearly three decades by that point, and thus whenever the two are on the same team, Fred will default to following John's commands, as seen in Halo 5: Guardians.
  • Mass Effect
    • Mass Effect 2: When the team goes on the Suicide Mission through the Omega Relay, the player is asked to select squad leaders to run a mission parallel to yours. Of the correct choices, two are humans in their late 20s or early 30s, commanding soldiers or aliens who are substantially older or more experienced. The third choice is an alien of similar age. This at least is justified in that the age and experience of others does not necessarily mean they know how to lead. Zaeed for instance is older than all of them, and a heavily experienced mercenary always gets the job done; but he's always the Sole Survivor in doing so, making him a bad choice to lead.
    • Mass Effect: Andromeda: Cora Harper was originally second-in-command of the human Pathfinder team and first in line for the position if something happened to Alec Ryder. When Alec was killed after arrival in Andromeda, he instead gave the position to one of his children, Scott or Sara Ryder, while Cora remained second-in-command. It is a minor point of tension between Cora and Ryder until Cora's Loyalty Mission forces her to acknowledge that she would be a poor Pathfinder.
  • Persona 3: Akihiko and Mitsuru are already senior members when you first join the SEES, but both of them are unavailable at the start (Akihiko due to injury, and Mitsuru does the initial navigation and support), leaving you as the party leader when exploring Tartarus. When they join the party for real, Akihiko prefers to just focus purely on fighting, so you stay as leader, while Mitsuru already acknowledges your leadership and sees no point in changing the arrangement.
  • Saints Row series:
    • Saints Row 2: Of the two surviving Saints who have not yet dropped their flags, Johnny Gat is more senior than Playa, having been Julius's lieutenant since before Playa's recruitment. However, since Johnny is only interested in blowing stuff up and killing dudes, he readily defers leadership of the reconstituted Third Street Saints to Playa (who henceforth becomes known as "the Boss"). This is partially justified by the fact that Playa was briefly promoted to Julius' Number Two at the very end of Saints Row but was put out of commission, and the gang got disbanded before that promotion could really stick.
    • Saints Row IV: After Playa/Boss is elected President of the US, Benjamin King serves as his Chief of Staff — King being not only the former boss of the largest Stilwater gang back in Saints Row, when Playa was just a nameless gangbanger, but the guy who originally came up with the whole Vigilante Militia ideology that Julius Little (himself a former lieutenant of King's) later founded the Third Street Saints upon. This comes into particular focus when the Boss starts reciting their traditional "It's our time" speech, which they stole from Julius, and King points out that Julius had originally stolen it from him.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic:
    • Early in the Trooper storyline, the command demotes your squad sergeant Aric Jorgan to cover their own asses for the defection of the rest of the Havoc Squad, so you, as the Player Character, have to take charge of the squad as its highest-ranking member, despite having just recently completed your training, and Jorgan being a battle-hardened veteran. Jorgan takes his demotion gracefully and works his way back up the ranks (even if you far outpace him in this climb).
    • During Chapter 3 of the Sith Inquisitor storyline, the Inquisitor is approached by Valion Pyron, an Imperial moff (a military governor something like an Ottoman pasha) who thinks they can help him finish a Wave-Motion Gun he's been working on. In theory, the mere fact of being a Sith puts the Inquisitor above anyone in the Empire except a higher-ranking Sith, but in practice the Inquisitor is a relatively young and inexperienced Lord of the Sith—and one who is being hunted by a member of the Dark Council, Darth Thanaton, no less—whereas Moff Pyron is a veteran of many decades of military service. They partner up over the superweapon and Pyron's frustration with the current Dark Council, with Pyron becoming the Inquisitor's subordinate on Corellia and supporting their ascension to the Council as Darth Nox/Occlus/Imperius (depending on their Karma Meter at the time). Shadow of Revan shows that the Inquisitor mostly lets Pyron handle his own affairs, with him giving them periodic reports and seeking their input on high-level strategic matters.


    Western Animation 
  • Beast Wars: Early on, it's made clear Optimus Primal is relatively inexperienced, something Rattrap gives him no end of grief about. Rhinox is implicitly older than both of them, but is quite happy not being in charge if he can help it.
  • Gargoyles: When Hudson started Feeling Their Age, he stepped down as clan leader and passed the job to Goliath, who made Demona his second-in-command. After Demona left the clan, Goliath wanted Hudson to be his second-in-command, but Hudson insisted Goliath choose one of the Trio, who were eighty years (four generations) younger than Hudson himself and twenty years (one generation) younger than Goliath and Demona.
  • The Transformers: Rodimus Prime, new leader of the Autobots following the events of the movie, is far less experienced than his second-in-command, Ultra Magnus.

    Real Life 
  • In some militaries, junior officers can issue legally binding orders on their superiors when situation demands it. It mostly happens with officers in specialist services (like medicine), but other exemptions to the hierarchy may exist in the regulations.