While Ralph appears as a natural leader—"there was his size and attractive appearance"—he possesses flaws that weaken his leadership.
Ralph understands well the need for order and rules, but he does not understand the boys' need for gratification. Keeping the fire burning and building shelters are not as exciting as the activity that Jack suggests, so without any kind of immediate reward for the boys, Ralph loses them to the hunt that Jack leads.
Ralph often relies upon Piggy for ideas. It is Piggy who suggests the use of the conch, and when Jack and the hunters steal the fire, it is Piggy who suggests that Ralph's group build another fire on the beach. In "a strange mood of speculation," Ralph realizes that thought is
a valuable thing, that got results . . . . Only, decided Ralph as he faced the chief's seat, I can't think. Not like Piggy. (Ch. 5)
Later, in Chapter 8, Jack recognizes this weakness in Ralph: "He's like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isn't a proper chief." And unlike Jack, who uses Roger as an enforcer, Ralph has no method to enforce his rules other than to appeal to the boys' sense of duty, which has deteriorated on the island where savagery is exciting and brute force dominates. When, for instance, Ralph appeals to the boys' sense of the need for rules—"The rules are the only thing we've got!"—Jack shouts against him,
Bullocks to the rules! We're strong—we hunt! If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We'll close in and beat and beat and beat— (Ch. 8)
This brute force of Jack, who unites the boys with fear and intimidation, overcomes the rule of Ralph, who does not know how to turn the boys away from Jack. Ralph's democratic way of thinking cannot adjust in order to fight the other influences on the island. In addition, he often finds his mind clouded in stressful situations.
In Chapter 4 of Lord of the Flies, Ralph shows his weak leadership. At this point in the story, the boys have spotted a ship and are hopeful that the ship will see the signal from the fire that is supposed to be at the top of the mountain. Piggy cannot see if there is smoke coming from the fire and asks Ralph if he thinks the ship can see the signal. Ralph, however, does not answer him. He starts to run to the mountain when he realizes that if the fire is out, he'll need Piggy's glasses to get it going again. Ralph cannot figure out what to do: "Balanced on a high peak of need, agonized by indecision, Ralph cried out, 'Oh God, oh God!'" Here, Ralph displays a serious moment of weakness through his indecision. The fire is in fact out and the ship does pass the island. Ralph finally takes action by running to the peak and screaming for help, but it is too late. Ralph is not able to mobilize the boys or himself to make a feasible attempt at saving themselves and thus shows his weakness as a leader.