The squad leader is the core component of a squad of soldiers in XCOM: Enemy Unknown. They are first in the firing order during missions, and their death is likely to induce panic among surviving squad members. The importance of their role is increased in XCOM: Enemy Within.
The squad leader is indicated by a yellow star over their rank icon in battle.
Designating a Squad Leader
The squad leader is determined when choosing soldiers in the Squad Selection screen prior to boarding the Skyranger, according to the following criteria:
- Soldier rank – the highest ranked soldier is always selected, regardless of position or stats.
- Squad Selection slot – if two (or more) soldiers share the highest rank, the foremost unit in the Squad Selection interface will be selected; the foremost slot is the third from the left with a six-unit squad, with the next most forward being the second and fourth from the left.
- Most missions – if the highest ranked soldiers are equally far forward, then the unit who has participated in the highest number of missions is selected.
- Most kills – if the highest ranked soldiers are tied both in position forward and number of missions, then the unit with the highest number of kills is selected.
Lead By Example allows the squad leader to substitute their Will for that of lower nearby soldiers. The squad leader has the Lead By Example icon on its list of abilities during the pre-mission loadout. During the mission the icon also appears on any soldiers benefiting from this upgrade and is visible in their list of abilities on the lower left corner of the main screen. Its radius is about 7 tiles.
After discovering psionics and acquiring Lead By Example, assigning the highest Will soldier as the squad leader can provide excellent benefits for the entire squad. By equipping the squad leader with a Mind Shield and Psi Armor, and awarding the soldier medals such as the International Service Cross, Council Medal of Honor, and Star of Terra, it is possible to have a squad of soldiers with 200+ Will (when used in conjunction with Iron Will and Not Created Equally to allow a higher initial Will stat, and increases of up to 13 Will per promotion). If gene-modded with Neural Feedback, these soldiers will not only have a great chance of resisting psionic attacks, but can easily kill Sectoid Commanders and Ethereals.