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Sliding Scale of Leadership Responsibility

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So you're in charge. Especially in a dangerous environment. Are you going to take care of your people or sacrifice them to your convenience? Or something in between?

There's been a lot of fiction written about this. Here are some points along the scale and their associated tropes.

The Superman

This is the leader who makes sure to take the most dangerous or onerous duties on himself. Usually The Hero and often The Cape or a Knight in Shining Armor. More likely to lead a handful of True Companions than an army, as he hates the thought of getting thousands of people killed. If he does lead an army, he's likely to be a Four-Star Badass, A Father to His Men and is certain to put The Men First.

The Théoden

This is the leader who takes a roughly equal share of the danger, consistently Risking the King. If Asskicking Leads to Leadership, this is likely to inspire Undying Loyalty. If the leader isn't as powerful as his troops, this may be seen as Honor Before Reason or even Death Seeking.

The Vader

Sometimes, a villainous leader takes point not because they care about their subordinates, but simply because they're the toughest warrior on their side and it would be tactically foolish (or seen as weak) to stay out of the fighting. They are unlikely to waste their troops' lives carelessly, but they won't hesitate to spend them either, and may be a nasty Bad Boss to those who have failed them. On the other hand, no one can accuse them of lacking courage.

The Hammond

Usually a Reasonable Authority Figure who gets out of the way of his men so that they can do their job. He stays back at Mission Control, where he may or may not do much during the mission. Still, if things go badly wrong, he's likely to Go Down With His Ship. Likely to be an Officer and a Gentleman. Most likely to suffer from The Chains of Commanding, though that can affect others as well. If he's significantly stronger than his underlings, this can turn into Orcus on His Throne.

The Magneto

Named after the movie version, not the comic book version. This is the leader who has reserves and isn't reluctant to spend them. His men mean less to him than victory. Often a Glory Hound, General Failure or flat-out villain. In darker works, this can also be a good character who had to do it because the alternative was even worse. Such a character may later be found Drowning His Sorrows.

The Xykon

This is the extreme Bad Boss who sacrifices his Mooks any time they're no longer useful or simply For the Evulz. Always a villain.

Just the Tropes

(This index is sorted from most responsible to least responsible; please add new tropes accordingly.)

Works that Feature this Scale or Movement along it

  • In The Lord of the Rings, usually a good leader will take the Theoden position, as exemplified by...well, Theoden. Going down to Magneto or worse is a sign that you've slid down other scales as well, as with Denethor. On the other hand, when you reach the top of the power scale, this is reversed due to the series' Aesop about power. Gandalf is supposed to take a Hammond position because of his position. He's not allowed to fight Sauron by meeting power with power, and so he only fights on a couple of occasions — and then he doesn't fight as Superman. Sauron, by contrast, gladly led from the front when he had the power to do so, but as of the time of the series, he's forced to be Orcus on His Throne because he can't leave his tower without the Ring.
    • The Orc chieftain, Adar, from The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power, is an evil version of The Theoden. Some time before the show, he split Sauron open to save his kin from being further experimented on. Unlike his two predecessors, Morgoth and Sauron, he deeply cares about the Orcs, being literally A Father to His Men (Adar means "father" in Sindarin), and as such, he enjoys Undying Loyalty from the Orcs. He concocted an elaborate plan that includes terraforming the Southlands into Mordor just to create a home for his kin.
  • Redcloak's character development in The Order of the Stick is mostly sliding up and down this. He starts as The Hammond, degrades into The Magneto under Xykon's influence and his own bigotry, then has his My God, What Have I Done? moment and jumps up to The Théoden — all without losing his villain status.
  • Warhammer 40,000: While every game requires at minimum a general and two units of troops, leadership varies among factions:
    • Imperial commanders are a very mixed bag due to their main strength being that they have literally trillions of soldiers:
      • Space Marine commanders are on the frontlines a lot, because while they're also great at tactics, they're kind of wasted when in back. On the other hand, they tend to work their unaugmented allies as hard as themselves, which causes no end of problems.
      • Imperial generals are stereotyped as incompetent Dirty Cowards with no strategy beyond throwing more men and tanks at the problem while staying safely back. While this is by no means untrue, most named characters subvert it by being competent at strategy or by being a Frontline General (Commander Chenkov is one such officer who simply sends in more men every turn, but is always on the battlefield to "encourage" his troops forward and has actually earned each and every medal).
      • Commissars are best-known for shooting their own men to keep them in line or to prevent them from panicking just because they're facing house-sized living tanks or unkillable robots or a million orks. But in order to shoot their men, they need to be on the front line, and several of them are noted to have suffered nervous breakdowns due to losing so many men.
    • Tau Ethereals are not expected to join combat, but they provide great morale bonuses to the Tau army if they do. Conversely, if they get killed the Tau army suffers a massive breakdown.
    • Ork warbosses who don't fight on the frontlines are nearly unheard of, as they are a species literally created to fight and thrive on war. The ones who do tend to be very smart and sneaky indeed, and therefore quite successful against other races who expect the bog-standard run-at-something-to-hit-it-while-shooting-and-screaming tactics that are good enough for 99.999% of greenskins.
    • Chaos commanders are almost always in battle to gain the favor of their gods. They will gladly sacrifice millions of their own men for pragmatic, symbolic, or just Stupid Evil reasons.
    • The Eldar value each of their kind's lives, but what others condemn as cowardice they see as preserving their lives (it helps that they can see the future, so if avoiding battle now means victory later they'll do it). However Rank Scales with Asskicking is the case more often than not, so they still win their share of battles.
  • In Warrior Cats, the best leaders tend to be Théodens (who take an equal share in the danger and fight alongside their warriors) with the occasional Superman moment, which is to say that they sometimes take on the most dangerous tasks in order to spare their cats some unreasonable danger. Villains are always Xykons (sacrificing their cats left and right without a care) and Magnetos, who aren't quite as bad as Xykons, but still don't care that much about their followers.
  • X-Men: Apocalypse: Previous films had established that Professor X is typically The Hammond on this scale, but during the Final Battle, he moves up three steps and briefly becomes The Superman. When Apocalypse gives Charles a Sadistic Choice — surrender, or Mystique and Quicksilver will die — Beast and Cyclops volunteer to rescue their teammates, but Xavier stops them because he would rather sacrifice himself than see anyone he cares about get hurt. This turns out to be an unacceptable option because Charles is the Earth's Barrier Maiden (and he obviously doesn't want to put billions of lives at risk), but he then challenges Apocalypse to a mind duel, which creates a much-needed distraction. Xavier gets pummeled on the astral plane, and he only asks Jean Grey — whom he loves like a daughter and is naturally protective of her — to intervene when he knows he's dying.