Hello! How are you? In my story, there’s a group of people who regularly work together. Of course, with any story that has a group of people, there are going to be “roles” assigned to each character. How do I designate the “Strategist” from the “Group Leader”?Atlas
Hey Atlas, great to hear from you!
This is a great question and is indeed a bit tricky. By default, whoever comes up with plans is the leader, since they’re the one telling the other characters what to do. However, this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, and the key is to separate creating the plans from executing the plans.
The group strategist uses objectives and information to form a plan. If the group is trying to rescue a prisoner, the strategist decides which characters should create a diversion and which one should sneak over the wall with bolt cutters.
Once that plan is made, the leader tells everyone what to do and is in charge on the ground. Since no plan survives first contact with the enemy, the leader is the one who improvises and issues new commands. It’s also their job to inspire the group and know what other characters need.
Basically, the strategist is a planner, but the leader is a people person. In D&D terms, it’s the difference between an intelligence roll and a charisma roll. There will probably be at least some overlap, as the leader needs to understand the strategist’s plans, but you can definitely make those different jobs.
For a well-known example, I’d look at the Animorphs books by K.A. Applegate. Our heroes are a group of kids with shapeshifting powers fighting a covert insurgency against alien invaders, and Jake is their leader. Jake sometimes comes up with plans himself, but just as often, it’s another character.
When a different character makes the plan, Jake is the one who gets the team moving and makes sure everyone is ready to do what the plan calls on them for. When things inevitably go wrong, Jake makes the quick decisions necessary for the team to adapt. That’s a pretty reliable model for the sort of job splitting you’re describing.
Hope that answers your question, and good luck with your story!
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Comments on How Is a Strategist Different From a Leader?
I’d like to add that the strategist must be able to see the big picture, to figure out what could happen to the plan (although they usually miss at least one eventuality, unless we’re on mastermind level), to see what is needed and who is best for what part of the plan. The leader must be able to think on their feet and improvise when, inevitably in fiction, something goes wrong. The leader can be a strategist and a strategist can have leader qualities, but it’s not the same kind of thing.
I would say that assigning people to different parts of the plan could be the role of the leader instead of the strategist, to further differentiate the two. The strategist might determine what roles they need for their plan, but the leader, the people person, may know best which person would best fit each role. Of course, if all characters have very different skillsets, there is probably only one obvious fit for each role, so the distinction doesn’t apply. But in a team of specialists with overlapping skillsets, the leader could take into account personality and experience to find the best fit for each role, something the strategist might not be able to do.
Taking the A-Team as example. Hannibal tell the team what they need and when, and Face just provide (usually getting Murdock out of the asylum), so for a Leader plan to work they need several “sub plans” carried over by the Strategist.
For the younger people, Leverage also uses that blueprint, where they need to get something to use it as part of the bigger plan.
In Animorphs, the strategist is usually whoever is the viewpoint character for that book
Sticking to the superhero genre, the strategist might be someone who has a plan for saving the city from an evil robot. In that case, the leader might assign one person to distract the robot and another to figure out its weak point. If the fight takes place in a city, they might also have someone evacuate the civilians out of the area in case of collateral.
For another example, Harry is the leader, because all the bad guys got the script in advance and shoot at him first. Harry knows it’s his job to draw fire so Hermione can actually save the day.
Hermione is the strategist since she’s the most intelligent and the only one paying attention to what’s going on.
Ron is the strategist for all plans involving chess and ONLY chess.
Hope that helps!
In Attack on Titan, they have an interesting dynamic between the strategist and leaders. In many cases, Armin is the strategist of the group, but once he comes up with an idea, he has to convince the leader at the time (like Commander Erwin) to go ahead with the plan. Then, the plan is executed on the ground by someone more experienced (like Captain Levi) or with powers (like Eren).
I was about to mention Commander Erwin.
I think an important part of being the leader is the ability of taking responsibility. If someone gets hurt or injured, it will be on his conscience whereas the strategist was just ‘doing some theoretical thinking’ and coming up with ideas.
Commander Erwin makes some very hard decisions, sacrificing lots of lives ‘for the greater good’. It’s hard to say whether those were good choices but he was the only one capable to take up that responsibility.
In the broadest terms, a strategist makes plans; a leader makes decisions. Those have a lot of overlap, but are distinct things. For example, the leader may be the one to decide what the group’s goal is, and the the strategist comes up with the plan to accomplish that.
Shonen anime and other media that frequently use variants of the Five Man Band team structure are easy places to see this in action, where the hero is usually the leader by force of personality and being the person to unite the group through personal connections rather than because they are the smartest, while the Smart Guy is its own distinct role within the team dynamic.
If the leader is also smart and capable of coming up with plans, then some sort of character divide between the leader and strategist is necessary to keep them from feeling redundant. Often this will take the form of the strategist being logic-driven, while the leader brings a more emotional angle – “We can’t win this fight, we should retreat,” vs “We can’t run, we’d be abandoning these people,” for example.