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I stepped out. I did not step down.
The Chains of Commanding are a heavy burden even for the strongest leader, and lately the new guy has been picking up more and more slack--so much so that he's practically the leader of the group. He may not always be right or charismatic, but after going on many adventures with the team, he's become influential to the point that he's the leader in all but name.
This can happen slowly or suddenly. Often, the group is thrust into situations they simply can't handle, but the new guy consistently rises to the occasion. The old leader may contribute by over-relying on the new guy or even formally give up his leadership. However, he may cling to his position and insist he's still in charge--in this case, the changeover usually happens because the rest of the group has voiced support for the new guy.
Anime and Manga
- Happens in Mobile Suit Gundam Wing as part of a Xanatos Roulette by Trieze Khushrenada. After tricking the Gundam pilots into villifying themselves to the whole world by assassinating the Earth Sphere Alliance pacifist leaders, Trieze's OZ organization is poised to conquer the world...until he chooses to step down as leader in protest over the use of unmanned mobile dolls in future assaults. He is kept in house arrest in an opulent mansion for several months until the Gundam pilots begin to recover and counterattack and the Romefeller Foundation, Treize's aristocratic sponsors, begins to split apart from the inside. At that point, Relena Peacecraft had been installed as Romefeller's leader and, in theory, Queen of the World Nation. Though she was intended to be a figurehead, many of her ideas began to take hold, which raised tensions within the Foundation. Meanwhile, her brother Miliardo had taken control of the White Fang paramilitary group, which controlled most of the military forces in outer space. Since the world was already under a single global command and its leader was unequal to the task of, and unwilling to, prosecute a war, all Trieze had to do was walk in the room and ask Relena to abdicate the title of World Sovereign to him in order to deal with White Fang.
- Inverted in Judd Winick's run on The Outsiders. Jade takes over leadership duty from the frequently bickering Arsenal and Nightwing... except everyone still listens to Nightwing in the field and the team almost universally follows his suggestions instead of Jade's. It's not until Nightwing leaves the team that Jade actually takes over, and even then it doesn't last long.
- Over in The Avengers, this happened to Hawkeye for a while during the Busiek-Perez era. After leading the West Coast Avengers, Hawkeye found himself frustrated with once again playing second fiddle to Captain America, which eventually led to Hawkeye's decision to join and lead the Thunderbolts}}.
- In X-Men, Storm challenged Cyclops to personal combat to determine who would lead the team, partly to force him to focus on his wife instead of bearing the responsibility of the X-Men. Storm won and took charge while Cyclops retired to lead a civilian life. However, he's always been in overall command since he rejoined the X-Men several years later.
- In Thunderbolts, Moonstone was edging more and more in control when Zemo revealed their secret and so yanked them back to his control.
- This happens in Men At Arms. In Captain Vimes' absence, Carrot had to take over leading the Watch. When Vimes returns, Carrot makes some recommendations to Vimes. Vimes angrily reminds Carrot that he's still in charge, and then does exactly what Carrot recommended anyway.
- In The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents the leader of the rats from before they gained sentience, Hamnpork (they got their names off of labels) feels threatened because of his age and how differently the younger rats think. There's Dark Tan, a big younger rat who increasingly commands the rats, and Dangerous Beans, a practically blind white rat who's their main thinker and mostly ignores their old hierarchy.
- In No More Dead Dogs, a football player essentially becomes the director of the school play in a coup de etat, though the actual teacher directing occasionally tries to remind the students that he's supposed to be in charge.
- In the Warrior Cats series, WindClan leader Tallstar becomes so old and ill that his second-in-command, Mudclaw, makes most of the decisions for the Clan. With his dying breaths, Tallstar decides that he doesn't want Mudclaw to be the next leader, so he makes Onewhisker his successor instead.
- Aliens has Ellen Ripley take over as de facto commander of the space marines when their lieutenant has a breakdown during a firefight. Since Ripley is a civilian consultant being dragged along on a military expedition, this requires an interesting balancing act (although the lieutenant himself doesn't protest much).
- The lieutenant is smart enough to realize that the surviving marines will not take his orders and would probably shoot him if he tried to force the issue. They maintain the fiction of him being in command in case they survive and there is a court-martial.
- Used in Transformers when Megatron is brought Back From the Dead and finds out that Starscream has...well...done what he does best.
Megatron: Even in death, I still rule!
- Doctor Who: Jack is briskly giving orders about how to surround and overcome their enemy. The Doctor demands to know who's supposed to be in charge, Jack apologizes, and the Doctor says -- what he said.
- In one episode of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, a group is stranded on a planet under the command of a young, incompetent lieutenant. Chief Tyrol, being much more experienced, constantly gives advice. The lieutenant resents this, worrying that he's losing control of the group. Naturally, every time he ignores Tyrol's advice, it goes badly.
- After Angel has a breakdown and deserts his friends, they refuse to take him back unless he lets someone else be the boss. So Wesley gets the job, but he's shown repeatedly to hesitate under pressure, and everyone soon starts looking back to Angel for guidance.
- House had a brief Season 2 arc where as part of an official reprimand House was ordered to have another doctor supervise him. Cuddy gave the job to Foreman, but House still pretty much behaved like House, ordering the others around while bullying Foreman into going along with it and doing reams of his neglected paperwork.
- This may have happened in the WWF when The Rock gradually took over the Nation of Domination from Farooq.
- Wade Barrett basically said this verbatim after CM Punk took over The Nexus. The other Nexus members disagreed.
- AVALANCHE in Final Fantasy VII changes to the point only two of the original members are still there, yet Barret keeps using that name while referring to the Player Party and still calls himself the boss, but does what others say.
- In Super Mario RPG Bowser "recruits" your party to his (at the time, one-man) army and tell you about it every time he can.
- Arthas in Warcraft III occasionally says "Nobody orders me around" immediately before doing whatever you say.
- Brother claims to be the leader of the Gullwings in Final Fantasy X 2, yet as the game goes on, they start doing what Yuna wants more and more. It actually bounces back and forth between them.
- Commander Shepard still commands enormous respect even after losing his/her Alliance commission and Spectre status in the second game, and working with a terrorist organization. In the third game, both are reinstated (with a promotion!) regardless of whatever war crimes he/she has committed. The opening scenes cement this. The Virmire survivor picks up Shepard in the Normandy after the tutorial level. This person has been promoted to the same rank Shepard was in the first game (or higher), and is a Spectre candidate in his/her own right, but as soon as Shepard steps aboard, there is no doubt who's in charge.
- In Fans!, Katherine spends pretty much the first arc complaining about this trope after everyone begins to defer to Rikk's leadership. After she screws up out of desire to reassert her authority and nearly gets everyone killed, it's made official that Rikk's the new leader.
- In The Guild plays with this trope. Vork abdicates leadership and Codex is elected the new leader. Afterwards he constantly back-seat leads, and Codex even starts snarking back at him that if he's going to criticize her leadership, he can have it back! ... and then begging him to, since she was a horrible leader.
- The US system of government is arranged so that, at any given time there might be half a dozen ex-presidents. These usually spend their time doing philanthropic fundraisers, writing or ghostwriting memoirs, or making speeches at political conventions or meeting the leader of North Korea and taking a few pics with him to free hostages. Or whatever.
- Another Political example - H. H. Asquith, the Liberal Prime Minister of Great Britain 1908-1916. From about 1912, he was considered stuffy, outdated and out of touch by many of the people, and of his party - most of whom preferred the dynamic, (comparatively) radical and charismatic David Lloyd George. His clinging to power and relying on traditional peacetime bureaucracy almost cost Britain WWI - things only picked up when a large part of the Liberal party and their Conservative parliamentary allies demanded he step down for Lloyd George.
- Even then, he and his significant minority of followers continued to spar for control of the Liberal party with Lloyd George until he died in 1928 - this is generally considered to have been the reason the Labour Party were able to rise so swiftly and the reason that the Liberal Party had not even an iota of influence over British politics from 1922 until 2010 (and even in 2010, the Liberals were gone - it was their spiritual successors, the Liberal Democrats). Nice going, Asquith...
- ↑ To be fair, the entire galaxy being under siege by an enemy that Shepard has by far the most experience in fighting might have something to do with it