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Short-Lived Leadership

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We are the mediocre presidents!
You won't find our faces on dollars or on cents
There’s Taylor, there’s Tyler, there’s Fillmore and there’s Hayes
There’s William Henry Harrison
“I died in thirty days!”

Being a leader is hard work. Whether someone is commanding an entire nation or just heading a Five-Man Band, there's a lot of trouble that can come with the job. Power can make people go mad, expose them to a lot of stress, and even if they somehow manage to stay sane and happy, they still need to worry about finding an heir or enforcing the rules. Sometimes, however, certain leaders don't have to face the potential problems that come with being in charge.

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That's because they stop being the leader before anything can even happen.

Whether they die, get overthrown, or step down, this character's time being a leader is unusually short-lived. In some cases, this may be all said leader is remembered for. Other times, their time may be so short they aren't remembered at all; sometimes this is due to the leader being turned into an Un-person for being so bad at their job while they had it. They may be just a tragic victim to an ongoing conflict, like a war or rebellion, or they may simply have been in poor health when the role was given to them.

Whatever the reason is, this leader barely has a chance to be a leader, and the most notable thing about their reign is often how short it is. If Played for Drama, this can lead to multiple different scenarios, such as the victory of a rebellion, a succession crisis, or the conquest of a villain. Played for Laughs, and this trope usually pops up as backstory where the gag is how ridiculously short the leadership actually was.

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Can be Truth in Television.

Contrast Permanent Elected Official, where a leader manages to stay in charge for an unusually long time.

As the fall of a leader is often a major plot point, beware of unmarked spoilers.

This list of examples has been alphabetized/ordered chronologically. Please add your example in the proper place. Thanks!


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Berserk: The mercenaries of the Band of the Hawk manages to put an end to the Hundred Years War opposing Midland and Tudors by capturing the fortress of Doldrey by themselves. For this feat, Griffith is made a general (and foils an assassination attempt on himself) and the band become the White Phoenix Knights. A month later, Guts feels he has nowhere left to go after this and decides to leave the Band. Griffith tries to stop him but is handily defeated, causing him to have a massive breakdown that ends with him sleeping with Princess Charlotte, leading to Griffith's arrest and the Band being outlawed on the next day, along with his torture for two years.
  • Naruto:
    • Back when Tsunade (the 5th Hokage) was sick after her attempts to protect Konoha's people from Pain (Akatsuki's leader)'s invasion, Danzo, one of the elders of Konoha, becomes the acting Hokage for the meeting between 5 Kages in the Land of Iron. After the meeting's over, he got ambushed by Sasuke and then died in battle. Tsunade also gets well again around that time to take the position back.
    • After the "saving Gaara" arc where Kakashi (leader of Team 7) gets injured, Tsunade appoints one of Kakashi's friends, Yamato, as a temporary leader for Naruto and Sakura. Together, they try to go after their rogue friend Sasuke, but the mission ends in failure; Kakashi gets well soon afterward to take the position back. Not long after, Yamato also becomes the temporary leader of Team 8 (Kiba, Shino and Hinata) as their leader Kurenai is on a maternity leave.
  • Pecola has an episode where the titular character participates in an election for becoming the town's mayor. Due to everyone getting the idea to jokingly vote for him, he ends up winning and promptly launches his victory fireworks, much to everyone's horror. After about 30 seconds of utter chaos, Pecola announces resigning from his position. Why? Because he got a stomach ache from eating all the pudding he promised to everyone.

    Fan Works 
  • In Loved And Lost, the extended retelling of the 2nd season finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, Prince Jewelius overthrows the princesses right after Twilight Sparkle stops the Changeling invasion (which he started with Queen Chrysalis before double-crossing her) by tricking the shaken public to believe all the other heroes but Twilight are to blame for the invasion. He then enjoys for one week his new status as "Holy King Jewelius I" who has Twilight as his student and fiancée, but his urge to personally murder his aunt Celestia and cousin Cadance leads him to lure the banished heroes back to Canterlot and brag about his success in their faces. After the heroes and the entire Changeling army have escaped from his clutches, he single-mindedly focuses on destroying the heroes and completely ignores the Changelings to the point that he allows Twilight and all of Canterlot's inhabitants (who are all more concerned about the Changelings than the fugitive heroes) to see him for the selfish monster he is. Even if the heroes hadn't defeated all of his minions and cornered him during the final battle before the vengeful Changelings came to kill him, his reign wouldn't have lasted much longer because the public started wanting the princesses back to power.
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    Films — Animation 
  • Aladdin: After getting the lamp, Jafar uses his first wish to become the Sultan of Agrabah. Though he uses his second wish to become a sorcerer and sends Aladdin to "the ends of the Earth", Aladdin returns not long later and tricks him into turning himself into a Genie who must be sealed in a lamp. This ends his reign as Sultan.
  • In the The Fairly OddParents! movie School's Out! The Musical, Timmy wishes that kids ruled the world instead of adults. As a result he becomes the president of kid world. Unfortunately, with all the kids now happy, the Godparents are pulled back to Fairy World, and the Pixies become the new wish-granters thanks to a loophole. Within minutes, he's confronted by Flappy Bob, who has his own wish granted and makes him the leader of the new, boring world. Flappy then overhears the Pixies discussing how they were using him all along, and he aids Timmy in defeating the Pixies, ending his own reign.
  • Hans in Frozen very briefly become the new King of Arendelle after Anna's supposed death where he claims that they had blessed their marriage vows before Anna turns to solid ice and declare that the first course of action is to sentence the former queen to death. Unfortunately, his brief reign falls immediately when in an attempt to kill Elsa, Anna suddenly swoops in and shield her sister from being killed, causing his claims to be shoved in his face with Elsa returning to reestablish her title as the queen and have Hans deported back to the Southern Isles in disgrace.
  • Shrek the Third: As King Harold is on his deathbed, he asks Shrek and Fiona to succeed him in ruling Far Far Away. Shrek's attempt at being the king, however, failed so horribly that before his death King Harold told him of another remaining heir to the throne, Arthur Pendragon. Shrek, knowing he'd make an awful king, immediately agreed to travel to find Arthur. Meanwhile, Prince Charming and his team of villains stormed Far Far Away, taking it over for the time between Shrek's disappearance and the final fight.
  • In The Spongebob Squarepants Movie, King Neptune gives Spongebob and Patrick exactly six days to return with his crown, or else he'll fry Mr. Krabs. During this time, Plankton takes over Bikini Bottom with slave helmets sold by the Chum Bucket. Spongebob and Patrick manage to return just in time and defeat Plankton's slave army with The Power of Rock, ending Plankton's reign as dictator.
  • Transformers: The Movie includes two, for both the Autobots and the Decepticons. Right before Optimus Prime dies, he passes on leadership to Ultra Magnus, but Ultra Magnus is replaced when Hot Rod is able to open the Matrix and becomes Rodimus Prime. Starscream, being The Starscream, overthrows a wounded Megatron, but Megatron quickly comes back even stronger as Galvatron, disposes of Starscream, and reclaims his leadership of the Decepticons.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Man Who Would Be King is about a pair of charlatans that migrate to Kafiristan (nowadays called Nuristan), where they use British rifles and tactics to assist a local chieftain in subjugating his rivals. Dravot is mistaken for Alexander the Great, who had conquered this territory centuries earlier, and had promised to return. Being corrupted by his power, he overthrows the chieftain, and claims Kafiristan his kingdom. Dravot even dares to begin a hereditary monarchy, but his bride inflicts a bleeding wound that exposes Dravot as mortal. Dravot's ascension and reign all transpire in one season, so less than one hundred days total.
  • The film Evita shows, through a musical montage, a series of military coups that gets Juan Peron closer and closer to becoming president.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Thor: Loki becomes the king of Asgard as the next in line after his father Odin falls into Odinsleep and his elder brother Thor is banished for attacking a neighborhood state. It only lasts for a couple of days until Odin wakes up, and ends in Loki's attempted suicide.
    • Thor: Ragnarok: Loki once again briefly assumes leadership over the Sakaaran gladiators. It ends in his death at the hands of Thanos in The Teaser of Avengers: Infinity War.
    • Black Panther: Killmonger's reign as king lasts only as long as it takes for T'Challa to fully heal from his wounds under the Jabari's protection. When he shows up alive to resume the challenge, he ultimately kills Killmonger and becomes king again.

    Literature 
  • The Books of Kings include the reigns of Nadab, Elah, and Ahaziah, each of which only lasted for two years, and little else is said about them. But that’s nothing compared to Zimri, who was only king for seven days!
  • In the first Bravelands book, Grub is dubbed The Leader of Brightforest Troop after the previous leader is (supposedly) killed by a hyena. His rule as Crownleaf only lasts a few days at best, as a jealous Stinger Highleaf soon poisons his food. With Grub dead, Stinger is free to become the new Crownleaf.
  • One Discworld novel mentions the reign of one king "Loyala the Aaargh" whose reign lasted 1.13 seconds and failed to even last the length of his proclamation. There were also some unnamed other Ankh-Morpork monarchs whose reigns did not last until the end of their coronation feasts; the longer-lasting kings employed food tasters.
  • The Hunger Games has President Alma Coin. Though already president of District 13, she was in command of the rebellion and intended to take over Snow's position as President of Panem once the rebellion was over. For a brief time, she'd gotten her wish. Then, during Snow's execution, Katniss decided to assassinate Coin instead, realizing that she was just as dangerous as Snow.
  • Rudyard Kipling wrote The Man Who Would Be King about a pair of charlatans that migrate to Kafiristan (nowadays called Nuristan), where they use British rifles and tactics to assist a local chieftain in subjugating his rivals. Dravot, being corrupted by his power, overthrows the chieftain, and claims Kafiristan his kingdom. Dravot even dares to begin a hereditary monarchy, but his bride inflicts a bleeding wound that exposes Dravot as mortal. Dravot is given a Disney Villain Death, while his partner is given a crucifixion, which he somehow survives, and lives to tell the tale. Dravot's ascension and reign all transpire in one season, so less than one hundred days total.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat series: Invoked by the protagonist in The Stainless Steel Rat for President. Less than a day after being elected president of the planet, he fakes his own assassination, leaving the people with an inspirational figure whose ideals they will try to live up to instead of an actual person they might have got tired of (and freeing him to go off and have more adventures instead of being stuck in one place for years).
  • Survivor Dogs: Leader Wannabe Bella was a pack alpha for all of a few weeks while her brother acted as a spy for their pack. She was forced into submission after she begged Alpha to let her packmates join his pack.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Following the fall of Brokenstar, Nightstar took over as the leader of ShadowClan. However, he was never given his eight extra lives by StarClan, because they still considered Brokenstar the true leader. Because of this, he and his deputy both ended up dying of illness soon later, leaving ShadowClan in a temporary state of anarchy.
    • Though not technically a leader, Lionheart had the shortest time as deputy, being promoted after Redtail died and then being killed off in a battle just a few moons later during the same book.

    Live-Action TV 
  • House of Anubis:
    • After a small competition with Joy, Mara is given the role as head editor of the school's new news site. She gets to work on writing a piece on Vera, which quickly turns into an expose when she realizes Vera's background information is falsified and shady. This leads to a hearing in which Vera tricks everyone into believing Mara lied. While Mara's expulsion was immediately taken back by Mr. Sweet, she was fired from the paper, and Joy got the position.
    • Following Nina's departure in Season 3, Fabian took over as the unofficial leader of Sibuna. However, once Eddie and KT joined in, Fabian stepped down to give the role to Eddie due to him being the Osirian.
  • Kaamelott:
    • Léodagan gets his daughter Guenièvre to name him as regent during Arthur's absence, removing the scheming Mevanwi from power. Unfortunately, she sleeps with the legislator to find the document approving Léodagan's position and destroys it, meaning the regent-naming decision reverts to the queen (which, technically, means Mevanwi). She puts her dumbass husband Karadoc in power the next day.
    • The Roman Empire is flanderized into offing its emperors in increasingly sadistic ways, including putting a scorpion in his bed.
      Arthur: They're in a coup d'état dynamic right now.
      Léodagan: Forget "dynamic", it's a national pastime.
    • Caius (the commander of the last remaining Roman encampment) often gets invited for lunch and political discussions:
      Arthur: Rome is finished, everyone can tell.
      Léoodagan: What's your emperor's name again?
      Caius:' Romulus Augustus.
      Léodagan: Yeah, that's it, and how old is he?
      Caius: Eleven and a half.
      Léodagan: One hell of an international superpower right there!
      Caius: Yeah, but he's really mature for his age.
      [...]
      Léodagan: But seriously, you don't think it's weird that you're led by a ten-year old?
      Caius: Eh, we give him less than two months before he gets his throat cut. Right now there's two putsches a year in Rome.
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: One sketch has admiral Karl Donitz become the Fuhrer after Hitler commits suicide. He immediately starts going on about the projects he wants to work on such as an autobahn, but his aides bring him back to reality by providing him with the essentials of what he'll need for his stay in power: General Eisenhower's phone number and how to say "We surrender" in English.
  • Blackadder: In the series finale, Prince Edmund finally accomplished his goal of becoming King of England... for about 30 seconds. As he lies on his deathbed after being gruesomely mutilated by the torture machine of his childhood rival Philip of Burgundy, his father King Richard proposes a toast to sent him go. Unbeknown to them, Percy and Baldrick had poisoned the batch of wine leading to the entire court to fall down dead after drinking the beverage. Edmund correctly deduces that the wine was poisoned but decided to take a sip just to be sure. Believing the wine is not the killer, as he has not immediately died, Edmund declares himself King of England, only for the wine to kill him moments later.

    Myths and Legends 
  • There's an urban legend that David Rice Atchison was the President of the United States for a single day: Sunday, March 4, 1849, in between James K. Polk and Zachary Taylor. It is true that Polk's last day in office was March 3, and Taylor's inauguration was pushed back to March 5 because he didn't want to swear the Oath of Office on a Sunday. Proponents of the urban legend say the succession laws made Atchison (who was President Pro Tempore of the Senate at the time) the acting President until Taylor could be sworn in. In reality, the constitution doesn't specify that an incoming President must swear the Oath before holding the officenote —and in any case, Atchison wasn't sworn in, either. Atchison himself disputed the story that he had ever been President, but somehow he wound up with a grave marker that read "President of the United States for One Day" anyway.

    Video Games 
  • Pokémon:
    • This was intended to be the fate of N, who was groomed from childhood to be the king of Unova after Team Plasma took over. After defeating Alder, befriending a legendary dragon, and raising his castle, this came true. However, his adoptive father Ghetsis had just been using him as a pawn and figurehead, plotting to overthrow him as soon as Hilbert/Hilda was defeated by N in battle. After both N and Ghetsis were defeated, Unova returned to normal, with neither of them becoming king.
    • Blue becomes the first champion of the Kanto Pokemon League. His championship is then immediately cut short when he gets defeated by Red in battle, before Professor Oak can even come to congratulate him.

    Visual Novels 
  • Doki Doki Literature Club!: In the neutral ending, After Monika gets deleted and the story resets to a new timeline, Sayori is the new club president. With this position comes the same Fourth-Wall Observer ability Monika had. In seconds, she becomes as obsessed with the player as Monika was, and Monika decides to delete the game entirely, ending Sayori's stint as club leader as quickly as it happened. This does not happen in the secret ending, because she's aware that you've helped her, Natsuki, and Yuri throughout different saves in Act 1, she doesn't go insane.

    Web Original 
  • Kickassia: After the grand takeover of Molossia, The Nostalgia Critic crowns himself the president of the micro-nation. He quickly grew to abuse his power, culminating in the rest of the Channel Awesome team overthrowing him. As such, his leadership lasts about a week, and Molossia is returned to the original leader.

    Western Animation 
  • One episode of Codename: Kids Next Door involves Lizzie making herself the leader of a mission while Nigel is taking a shower. She manages to make the others follow her long enough to get them to the teenager's flying football stadium, but Nigel takes over again as soon as she finds him in a locker. She then decides to take over again while Nigel is away to get her some icecream, just before the credits roll.
  • In Futurama the emperors of Trisol have an average reign of two weeks on account of Klingon Promotion. After Fry accidentally drinks (they're liquid beings) the emperor and becomes the new one it's pointed out that his future assassin and his assassin already have spots reserved in the portrait gallery.
  • Kim Possible: Throughout the series, Bonnie tries to replace Kim a cheer captain. In one late episode, Kim decides she has enough on her plate saving the world and resigns as cheer captain, letting Bonnie take over. After Bonnie realizes how much work comes with the position she quits and Kim agrees to take over again.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Twice, both times with Candace. The first time, she becomes the Queen of Mars after accidentally going through one of her brothers' portals. Her reign lasts until the boys bring her home for dinner, with the next ruler (A fake volcano made by Doofenshmirtz) being crowned soon after. The next time comes when she wins a contest to become the mayor for a day. At the end of the episode, Doofenshmirtz's new Accelerate-inator gets destroyed, time gets rewound, and an old man from Phineas and Ferb's pioneer town is given the mayor position instead.
  • One episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) has Leonardo questioning his leadership abilities after a bad dream. He leaves the group to ponder his issues and the others take turns as leader. Raphael proves to be too indecisive, Donatello relies too much on his inventions, and Michaelangelo doesn't have much in the way of strategy. Fortunately, Leonardo comes to his senses and rejoins them.
  • In Transformers: Generation 1, whenever Starscream does get to usurp Megatron for however long he can, it's often this. Just before his (first) death (and revelation that his Spark is indestructible), after disposing of Megatron once again, he crowned himself leader of the Decepticons, his reign lasting for a whopping 20 seconds before he was destroyed.
  • Brainy's reign as King Smurf in The Smurfs Animated Adaptation of the comic book story of the same name lasted only a day (or a few days, the length of Papa Smurf's journey to get some wrinkleroot), as Smurfette led a rebellion against King Smurf, helping Jokey to escape imprisonment and then having her team storm the village when Brainy ordered the remaining Smurfs to build a high fence and moat around the village. During the Civil War that following the storming of the village, Papa Smurf shows up to remind them that while they were fighting over Brainy's leadership role as King Smurf, they were forgetting about the dam leaking water. The Smurfs immediately dropped what they were doing and went straight to work fixing the dam, with the Brainy deciding to give up being King Smurf immediately after the crisis was averted.

    Real Life 
  • In ancient Athens, the chief executive official was the chairman of the prytany (the council's ten-part legislative calendar). It was a once-a-lifetime, one-day-long position.
  • This happened quite a bit during the Roman Empire:
    • There were four emperors in AD 69: Galba (who became emperor in AD 68 following the overthrow and suicide of Nero), Otho, Vitellus, and finally Vespasian, who won the power struggle in December and ruled for ten years.
    • Rome later had the Year of Five Emperors in 193, though some of them ruled concurrently with allied co-emperors. Still, Pertinax lasted 86 days and Didius Julianus only 65 days.
    • During the Crisis of the Third Century, Rome went through 26 different emperors. Included are Gordian I and II, both ruling for 21 days; Pupienus and Balbinus, who ruled for 3 months; and Hostilian, ruling for about 5 months.
    • After the Theodosian dynasty's fall no one emperor could hold what was left of the crumbling Western Roman Empire for more than half a decade. The last confirmed emperor Julius Nepos was deposed after barely more than a year and reduced to a figurehead by the newly self-proclaimed King of Italy for the last five years of his life.
  • Edgar the Atheling, last English King of England, elected by the Witan in October 1066, shortly thereafter abandoned by the remaining Saxon nobles who surrendered to William the Conqueror. William was crowned in December.
  • The shortest-reigning monarch that actually reigned is the Jurchen Emperor Mo who attempted to to resist the Jurchen's Last Stand against the Mongols after the previous ruler Abandoned the Throne to him after seeing the letter on the wall. That only lasted for half a day when he was Killed in Action.
  • Lady Jane Grey, who was technically the reigning British monarch for 9 days after Edward VI left the throne to her. Edward's sister, Bloody Mary, very quickly had her killed.
  • William Henry Harrison is mostly known for being the United States president with the shortest term, dying 31 days into office from pneumonia. He was also the first president to die while in office in general.
  • Frederick III succeeded his father Wilhelm I as Emperor of Germany on Wilhelm's death, March 9, 1888. Frederick died 99 days later of cancer.
  • Pedro Lascurain was President of Mexico for 45 minutes on February 19, 1913. (Mexico had ten presidents between 1911 and 1920 as the Mexican Revolution raged.)
  • France went through two periods of short-lived governments, known as "la valse des gouvernements" (the governments' waltz):
    • One in the 19th century, with the nomination of a duke who owed so much money his salary was immediately seized by his creditors, leading to the cabinet members resigning in protest and the derisive nickname "three-day government", to national hilarity.
    • From 1946 to 1958, France had 24 different governments lasting anywhere from 1 to 16 months, leading to the drafting of a new constitution of the Fifth French Republic.
  • Pope John Paul I reigned of about a month in 1978.
  • The vacancy for Governor of New Jersey first caused by Christie Whitman's resignation in 2001 ultimately led to John Farmer being governor for 45 minutes on January 8, 2002, followed by John O. Bennett for four days Jan. 8-12, followed by Richard Codey for three days Jan. 12-15. (Jim McGreevey took office as the regular elected governor on Jan. 15, 2002.)
  • The Soviet General Secretaries Yuri Andropov, Konstantin Chernenko, and particularly Vladimir Ivashko have had extremely short office terms (15 months, 11 months, and 5 days, respectively), and are therefore barely remembered by anyone but historians today, lost in the shadow of Stalin, Khrushchev, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev's much longer and more colorful reigns.
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