Character Motivation Entry: Being a Leader of Others

What does your character want? This is an important question to answer because it determines what your protagonist hopes to achieve by the story’s end. If the goal, or outer motivation, is written well, readers will identify fairly quickly what the overall story goal’s going to be and they’ll know what to root for. But how do you know what outer motivation to choose?

If you read enough books, you’ll see the same goals being used for different characters in new scenarios. Through this thesaurus, we’d like to explore these common outer motivations so you can see your options and what those goals might look like on a deeper level.

Character’s Goal (Outer Motivation): Being a leader of others

Forms This Might Take:

  • Becoming a mayor, senator, premier, president, or prime minister
  • Leading the charge for a social initiative, group, or organization
  • Taking the lead position of a non-profit organization
  • Being a CEO
  • Having a role of senior leadership within an company or corporation
  • Becoming a chief, elder, or member of a band council
  • Being a admiral, general,  or other military official/battle leader
  • Leading others in social change (arranging fundraisers, public awareness seminars, committees, demonstrations, public rallies and events)
  • Leading a church or religion
  • Steering the monarchy
  • Heading a important committee or task force responsible for the welfare of others
  • Leading a cult, commune, or religious community
  • Leading a police department, the prosecutor’s office, and other roles within the legal system
  • Leading out of necessity (emergency situations, in the aftermath of a terrible event (terrorism, natural disaster, etc.)
  • Guiding one’s neighborhood or community to become stronger and more inclusive to all
  • Leading a minimized group to promote equity and awareness
  • Leading a club or group involved in a specific interest or activity
  • Leading a self-help group
  • Being the head of a school or educational center
  • Being the manager of an office or operator of a business
  • Leading an army or group to rebel against oppressors, or flee to safety
  • Leading one’s peers (on a team, a committee, during an important task or mission, etc.)

Human Need Driving the Goal (Inner Motivation): physiological needs, safety and security, esteem and recognition, self-actualization

How the Character May Prepare for This Goal

  • Obtaining a mentor
  • Rallying support to run for office or vouch for one’s strengths (if needed)
  • Seeking out experts who best understand the needs of those one will lead
  • Surrounding oneself with legacy advisors to ensure critical knowledge is not lost
  • Meeting with the citizens or people one wishes to lead to better understand their needs and concerns
  • Obtaining any necessary training or education to be more effective in one’s role (accounting, leadership training, public speaking, economics, government processes, learning the laws and HR practices associated with the position, etc.)
  • Practicing active listening skills as well as learning how to negotiate and act with diplomacy
  • Understanding and respecting the values of the company one will work for (or the people one will serve)
  • Learning to shelve one’s ego and put the needs of one’s charges about one’s own
  • Bringing on capable, trusted aides so one may delegate tasks and better manage situations effectively
  • Understand the difference between inspiring people and strong-arming them through fear tactics and punishments
  • Making informed decisions that benefit the many and do the least harm
  • Owning one’s mistakes and learning from them
  • Understanding that collaboration and showing respect are important aspects of governance or leadership at any level
  • Learning how to become more open-minded, to listen to feedback and council,  and understand that being a leader and being an expert are not the same thing

Possible Sacrifices or Costs Associated With This Goal

  • Being overworked and over-stressed
  • Being held accountable when things go wrong
  • A poor work and home life balance
  • Being unable to afford the luxury of “bad behavior” (losing one’s temper, childish outbursts, getting drunk, etc.) as one is always in the spotlight and expected to hold the dignity of one’s position at all times
  • Relationship issues (due to neglect of one’s spouse or children, the amount of commitments associated with one’s job, having no energy for family time, etc.)
  • One’s kids growing distant because one is never around
  • Missing special moments because one is at work (birthdays, a child’s concert, etc.)
  • Backlash from rivals and critics who wish one to fail
  • Making a decision that turns out to be the wrong one, leading to costly (and highly publicized) repercussions
  • Having little to no time for hobbies and interests
  • Having one’s actions constantly scrutinized by other important entities (a board of directors, leaders at the peer level, one’s constituents, etc.)
  • Not getting enough sleep or exercise; developing poor eating habits
  • Increased risk of health issues (especially those tied to stress)

Roadblocks Which Could Prevent This Goal from Being Achieved

  • Skeletons coming out of the closet and damaging one’s reputation (an affair, taking a bribe, a video that casts one in an unfavorable light, etc.)
  • An addiction that causes one to be unreliable and irritable
  • Competition from someone who is equally as suited for the position
  • A lack of skills or experience in a critical area
  • Lacking a willingness to learn or adapt; being set in one’s ways
  • Losing the faith of one’s people (employees, a group of members, citizens of a country, etc.)
  • Doing things that make people question if one is trustworthy (being secretive, not being transparent in one’s dealings, lying and stretching the truth, etc.)
  • Not having enough faith in oneself, low self-confidence that makes one not seem to be “leadership material”
  • Having a lack of an imagination or creativity
  • An illness or accident that impairs one’s ability to lead
  • A scandal emerging that is blasted all over the media
  • An inability to sacrifice one’s own desires for the needs of others
  • Assembling an inept team that is sure to fail (and likely cause a lot of fallout)
  • Refusing to be accountable, or learn from one’s mistakes
  • Trying to do everything oneself rather than delegate to competent parties
  • Being emotionally immature or volatile

Talents & Skills That Will Help the Character Achieve This Goal:

Possible Fallout For the Protagonist if This Goal Is Not Met:

  • The disappointment of losing and letting one’s supporters down
  • Being unable to affect change at the leadership level
  • Frustration with the direction another leader steers the organization or group
  • Feeling unfulfilled and needing to seek how to apply one’s skills elsewhere
  • A loss of control; putting one’s fate (and possibly one’s physical well-being) in another hands

Clichés to Avoid: 

  • The power-motivated candidate for leadership who is completely unsuited for the position yet somehow ends up in the running
  • A candidate who tries to strong-arm into the position using one’s family’s power and influence
  • A David and Goliath situation where one rival has all the influence and advantages while the other has grit and ingenuity

Click here for a list of our current entries for this thesaurus, along with a master post containing information on the individual fields.

Image: Klimkin @ Pixabay

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About ANGELA ACKERMAN

Angela is an international speaker and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also enjoys dreaming up new tools and resources for One Stop For Writers, a library built to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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7 Responses to Character Motivation Entry: Being a Leader of Others

  1. Pingback: Writing Links in the 3s and 6…1/30/17 – Where Genres Collide

  2. Dylan says:

    Why should we avoid the first two cliché since they have happened in real life and that art/literature imitates life? Eventually authors and artist will replicate and exaggerate what has happened.

    • We should avoid the cliches as a wash-and-repeat (coping the scenario exactly) because they happen so often. BUT, this doesn’t mean you can write this scenario at all–it just means we need to put some extra work in to “twist” the cliche, and add greater depth and complication to the idea. Make sense? Then it’s no longer a cliche, but something fresh and new.

  3. :Donna says:

    Yet another fanTABulous entry, Angela 🙂 Thank you!

    And you know, some images speak volumes. I’m a big chess fan and this image was an immediate draw for me 🙂 But what I like most is that this depicts the dispensable (yet often very powerful) pawn as king 😀

  4. My character finds herself thrust into this role without being ready or knowing how to do so.

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