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The 12 Best and Worst Leaders in Fiction

This post was originally published in November 2016


Our favorite works of fiction have no shortage of examples on both sides of the equation to really illuminate what a leader ought to look like. Below, we’re rounding up the worst of the worst, and the best of the bestest, so you can get a sense of where you lie in the #futureprez stakes…

Ralph, Lord of the Flies
Ralph never wanted to be the boss—probably because, as evidenced by the outcome of this little misadventure amongst schoolboys, he pretty much stinks at it. Would Jack and the others have gotten so out of line if a more effective leader had grabbed the conch to begin with? We’ll never know… but we have our suspicions.

Katniss Everdeen, The Hunger Games
Katniss is a born survivor, a gifted hunter, and seriously brave—all good qualities! But when it comes to leadership, let’s be real: there’s a reason why she was the face of the revolution, and not its brains. As a symbol, she’s spectacular; but as a strategist, she’s much too easily manipulated and prone to going rogue.

Joffrey Baratheon, Game of Thrones
And this, my friends, is why we don’t let tiny inbred sociopaths wear crowns and order executions.

Dumbledore, the Harry Potter series
Although Dumbledore had a leader’s ability to inspire incredible loyalty amongst his followers, he squandered it a hundred times over by never, ever, under any circumstances, telling them what the heck was going on.

Napoleon, Animal Farm
No big surprise that the pig modeled on Joseph Stalin turned out to be a power-hungry megalomaniac who was hell-bent on repressing any/all dissent from the other animals. To be totally honest, he might have been even worse than the real thing!

Captain Ahab, Moby Dick
Ahab apparently missed the leadership seminar where they covered the whole “Don’t lead your whole team down the road to ruin and/or horrific death just to further your personal vendettas” thing. Oh, well.

Sherlock Holmes, The Complete Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Say what you will about Holmes’ methods—or his madness. The fact remains that Sherlock was able not only to deduce his way to satisfying solutions to loads of crazy mysteries, but also able to whip even the skeptical Dr. Watson into a state of rabid support for his every zany plans. A true leader, this one.

Mr. Bennett, Pride & Prejudice
Although Mr. Darcy is undoubtedly the swoon-worthy hearthrob of this novel, we can’t help admiring the underappreciated acumen of Mr. Bennett, who managed to stay financially afloat and keep five daughters (mostly) in line despite countless challenges.

Gandalf the Grey, The Lord of the Rings
How capable a leader is Gandalf? Consider this: Even after the man himself was no longer physically leading the charge to Mount Doom, having accidentally fallen into a crevasse while entangled in battle with a Balrog, everyone kept on going largely because it’s what he would have wanted. (And yeah, also something about preventing Sauron from using the ring of power to destroy the world as we know it—but mostly? GANDALF.)

Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird
Atticus is your most poignant reminder that a true leader continues to do what is right, even when he knows it’s hopeless.

Ned Stark, Game of Thrones
While he was alive, Ned Stark was known for his bravery, his wisdom, and his unflagging (if sometimes) brutal fairness as a leader—which is why, five books after he was beheaded by evil King Joffrey, the mere mention of his name is still enough to inspire the North to rise on behalf of his few remaining family members.

Professor McGonagall, the Harry Potter series
Smart, savvy, cool under pressure, and actually willing to share information and delegate responsibility when necessary. Has anyone ever thought about how differently things might have turned out if McGonagall were in charge of defeating the Dark Lord? …On second thought, don’t think about that. It’s too depressing.

Are there any champions or abdicators we missed?