Vetinari Job Security

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Therefore a wise prince ought to adopt such a course that his citizens will always in every sort and kind of circumstance have need of the state and of him, and then he will always find them faithful."
Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince, Pt. IX

A character steps out of his normal role, due to anything from being sick to going on vacation to being locked up in prison. The rest of the cast is confident they can handle it, and may even think they can do a better job. Naturally, they fail terribly.

The ironic thing is that it's not that the original person necessarily does a great job, merely that they do an adequate job, or even just that they do it when no one else really wants to. An added source of humor can come from how inconsequential the job seems, and this can tie into An Aesop about minor details being important. Interestingly, this can apply to both villainous and heroic bosses. When an upstart villain tries to replace a Magnificent Bastard in these scenarios, the comeuppance can be spectacular.

The oldest television version of this trope usually involved sitcoms and vacationing wives—see A Day in Her Apron—although this particular version is becoming a Discredited Trope.

Compare Just Fine Without You, in which the focus is on the feelings of the person who left. Compare with Permanent Elected Official. This trope can lead to An Aesop addressing why it's wrong for the Planet of Hats to practice Klingon Scientists Get No Respect.

Named for Lord Havelock Vetinari of the Discworld series, the ruler of Ankh-Morpork, who has made himself so utterly indispensable to the city's continued functioning that despite his Anti-Villain/Villain Protagonist nature, any attempt to remove or replace him is likely to end in disaster.

Often obtained with the careful use of Bread and Circuses to appease the common person and undermine support for any critics of the regime.

Contrast and compare Ultimate Job Security, where someone does a truly bad job, but doesn't get replaced; and George Jetson Job Security, where a character returns mostly for continuity reasons. Compare The Heart, the glue and morality of a team.

Examples of Vetinari Job Security include:

Anime and Manga

  • In the second season of Witch Hunter Robin, when Robin and Amon go to ground, the witch hunter organization is barely able to function. Robin, a powerful pyrokinetic, and Amon, the resident gun-toting badass, make most of the captures. The remaining members are focused mostly on intelligence and support, with little combat ability.
  • Iceburg of One Piece fits, in that according to Spandam, because Iceburg had not only transformed Water 7 back into a shipbuilding corporation with the Galley-La Company, but by supplying the World Government with ships, he became too important and well-connected to simply get rid of.
  • In Code Geass, Zero invokes a more situational version of this right before they enter the Battle of Narita. He puts the Black Knights in an extremely untenable situation (surrounded by enemies with seemingly no means of escape), then tells them that their only options are to give him complete trust and command, or shoot him dead and try to escape on their own.
  • This was used as the argument behind not taking down Goldie Muso in the second Gunsmith Cats series, despite the fact that there was no real evidence that the mob had gotten out of control while she had amnesia, and that the person this was presented to had considerable first-person evidence to Goldie's status as a Complete Monster.
  • In a filler episode of Kyo Kara Maoh!, Gunther decides to go off on his own and see the state of the Great Demon Kingdom for himself. As he actually takes care of most of the Demon King's duties as well as his own work, it falls to Yuuri to handle everything until he comes back. Yuuri is quickly overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work Gunther does.

Comic Books

  • Fables
    • A variation with Flycatcher: he thinks his continual community service sentences for minor violations are cruel and unusual, but he's the only one who can keep The Woodlands floors clean, and it keeps him from going back to the Homelands to try and save his dead family. In the long run (very long), this works out; Flycatcher takes back his rightful place as king of a new Homeland, and actually wages a successful campaign against the Adversary that leads to the Fables having a nice foothold in the Homelands for the first time since the war began. But King Ambrose still visits Fabletown occasionally just to sweep the floors. There's still no-one else who can do his job.
    • Wholesale averted in the same story, when the original Fabletown leadership of Mayor Old King Cole, Deputy Mayor Snow White, and Sheriff Bigby Wolf are all replaced when Cole loses an election. Their jobs are taken over by, respectively, Prince Charming, Beauty, and the Beast. You would expect that they would fail horribly at replacing our beloved main characters, but instead they all performed quite well in their positions (especially Charming). Notable, however, is the fact that all three had a hard time of things at first, all three complained at times, and Prince Charming never stopped complaining about the responsibility right until the end. On multiple occasions, he mentions that Cole made the job look MUCH easier than it really was, and Beauty once asked how Snow got so damned good at her job. Beast seems to adapt the quickest and most effectively, but the good advice he got from Bigby early on helped smooth his path to growth. So in a way, this particular example started out as a Vetinari Job Security situation, but over time (and with the old office holders being unwilling to take their old jobs back), the new people were forced to grow into their roles.
  • Both played straight and averted in several European (mostly Italian) stories involving Scrooge McDuck. With his tendency to travel around the world seeking treasure, several stories have him mysteriously missing, declared deceased, etc. Either his heirs (Donald Duck, Huey, Dewey, Louie, Gladstone) or his office staff try to keep his financial empire running. In stories playing it straight, they really mess things up and manage to damage said empire. When Scrooge inevitably resurfaces, he has his hands full with a rebuilding process. In stories averting the trope, the replacements initially have problems but eventually wise up to proper ways of running things. Scrooge returns to find his affairs in a decent state and even notes a few improvements. Proving the intended heirs are actually worthy of the job.

Fairy Tales

  • There is, of course, the classic folk tale of the husband who thinks his wife has the easy job, lazing around the house all day, while the wife thinks the husband's job playing outside in the fields is easiest. They switch jobs and both make disasters out of the other's work.
    • Of course, there's another version of that folk tale where it's just the husband that thinks the wife's job is easy; they switch, she does fine, finishes early, and comes home in time to prevent him from completely destroying the entire house.
    • There's an interesting version where the King spends all day hunting dragons and the Queen spends all day sewing, and they decide to switch not so much out of "your job must be easy" but out of sheer boredom. The Queen finds that dragons are actually nice and also almost extinct thanks to all the hunting, and the King finds that he doesn't really like sewing. At the end of the day, they've decided that the way it's always been done is stupid, so the Queen finds better things to do than sewing and the two of them invite the dragons to come over weekly for tea.
    • There are also somewhat less pleasant versions, such as "The Mouse, The Bird and the Sausage", where the three characters keep house together. Each of them had their tasks to do, until one day the bird got tired of his job and they changed them around. Everyone ended up dead.

Fan Works

  • Some Touhou Fan Fiction often depicts Sakuya as being this to the SDM. An off-hand example is Life of Maid. This trope is applied to other characters (such as Youmu and Ran) too, but it's more common with Sakuya.


Sutler: What we need right now is a clear message to the people of this country. This message must be read in every newspaper, heard on every radio, seen on every television. This message must resound throughout the entire Interlink! I want this country to realize that we stand on the edge of oblivion. I want every man, woman and child to understand how close we are to chaos. I want everyone to remember why they need us!

  • In the beginning of Hot Fuzz, the London police send Angel to Sandford because he's so efficient he makes them all look bad. By the end, they are begging him to come back because his absence made the crime rate rise enough to make them all look worse.
  • God does this in Bruce Almighty, twice. First time, he casually mentions all the horror and suffering of the medieval ages were the result of him taking a vacation. He then decides to take another vacation, leaving Bruce in charge. In the end, after everything has gone to hell, Bruce kneels in a street exclaiming that he's learned his lesson, begging for God to come back.


  • Discworld
    • This trope is named for Lord Vetinari, a benevolent tyrant who stays in power, not because anyone actually likes him, but because they dislike him less than any of the other options. Several times he has been forced out of power, then resumed his usual role when the new regime collapses from its own inability to deal with the crisis they used as an excuse to seize power initially. This is, of course, just as planned—while Machiavelli may say it is safer to be feared than loved, Vetinari holds that being permanent is even better, and has remade the political system around him to work best when he's leading it. It is explicitly stated, and shown, that although Vetinari is disliked by most citizens low and high despite turning the city into the most powerful on the Disc, they always fail because he has tamed the city like a dog. And most dogs do not like it when the master is no longer around. It should be noted that, despite being the troper namer, a good portion of the books involve plots to overthrow his rule (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, The Truth, Going Postal, Making Money) or that will get rid of him as collateral damage (Sourcery, Interesting Times, Jingo, Thud!). And that's not counting plots that would destroy the world. The trope comes into effect when people like Sam Vimes or Moist von Lipwig, who don't like Vetinari at all, still find themselves forced to help stop those plots because the alternative is worse.
    • Samuel Vimes also qualifies. By the time of Night Watch, the Assassins Guild has taken him off the register, meaning they won't accept any contracts to kill him (the only other person to share this distinction being Vetinari), a sure sign that the city would be much worse off without him around. Also, they consider him not to be a good sportsman on regard to his assassination attempts.

The Assassins Guild understood the political game in the city better than anyone, and if they took you off the register it was because they felt your departure would not only spoil the game but also smash the board.

    • This is illustrated nicely in The Fifth Elephant when Vimes and every other senior officer end up leaving the Watch for different reasons and Colon is left in seniority. He quickly devolves into The Neidermeyer from the increased stress and responsibility and runs the Watch into the ground. That said, the crime rate still goes down, because while the criminals in the city know Vimes isn't around, they know he will be back, and he will not be happy if things go badly while he's away.
    • Another Discworld example is Archchancellor Ridcully. He is The Ditz and a Large Ham, much to the annoyance of the other wizards. But they remember that before him, the Unseen University was rife with Klingon Promotion and not just for the position of Archchancelor, leading to this exchange in The Last Continent:

"You know, we used to kill wizards like him."
"Yes, but we used to kill wizards like us too."

    • The Archchancellor was also, originally, immune to Klingon Promotion—by simply not being killable. It's mentioned, once, that one assassin attempting to get the better of him went deaf for two weeks. Since then, he made himself indispensible by stopping the trend of murder. He's also done a revolutionary modernizing overhaul of the management system—ie, throw the papers in a pile and ignore them, as well as anyone trying to tell him about them. If something is genuinely important, they won't give up trying to get him to listen after a minute or five. And there's always that one guy who knows what is going on who will eventually pick up the slack and do that stuff anyway. Incidently, this is exactly how Ponder Stibbons got majority vote in the staff with nobody noticing, and is almost this trope because of it.
    • The Librarian is another potential candidate for this trope. While Ridcully was initially taken aback at the notion of having an ape on the faculty, the fact that nobody else at UU has the nerve or know-how to manage the Library's dangerous books is sure to keep him in bananas in perpetuity. During the Librarian's illness from The Last Continent, the unmanaged books started attacking people, and the section of Critical Essays went critical. Not to mention the fact that "If you mentioned to the wizards that there was an orangutan in the library, they would be more likely to ask the Librarian if he'd seen it", and that he's been an orangutan for so long that nobody can remember his real name, with the possible exception of Rincewind. It's Horace Worblehat, if you're curious. Not only that, but the library also contains books that would drive a man mad by glancing at them. Since the Librarian isn't technically a man, he is the only one who can possibly handle them.
    • This is Mrs. Cake's modus operandi as described in Reaper Man: 1. Join a church. It can be any church for any god of any description. 2. Get involved, help out with the cleaning, maintaining the vestigal virgins, help handle collections, and so forth. 3. Continue step 2 until she is considered indespensible to the running of several major functions of the church. 4. Get into a disagreement with someone in charge of the church, and promptly leave, cutting all ties, thus throwing the entire structure into confusion.
  • The novel On Borrowed Time, which was also made into a play and film, is about how some people are sure that things would be just fine if Death quit his job. It doesn't work out too well.
  • In Incarnations of Immortality, the Incarnation of Evil, Satan, is a good man (for certain values of "good") just doing his job because... y'know. When he temporarily abdicates the Office, it defaults to the most evil man in the world who proves not only much less pleasant, but far less competent, so the other Incarnations, who have just spent the entire series opposing Satan at every turn, have to figure out a way to get him back in charge.
  • David Eddings
    • In The Tamuli, it's revealed that the government of a continent-spanning empire that covers nine countries and cultures has a very relaxed approach towards people who try to raise rebellion against the empire. Their view is that people get pissed for a reason, and the leader of the current rebellion probably knows what the problems are. So they ask him if he could do a better job of running his region; upon the inevitable 'yes', they put him in charge as governor and let him handle the headaches. He either A) fails and is miserable in a hard job with the populace hating him B) does a good job and straightens things out. The Tamuli Empire sees it as a win/win situation for them.
    • In The Belgariad, Drasnian merchant Silk is massively involved in trading goods and services pretty much everywhere in the world, even in the Angarak nations who are supposed to be opposed to Drasnia and the other western countries. At one point the emperor of the Mallorean empire has it pointed out to him that, were Silk and all his business enterprises to be removed, the Mallorean economy would probably collapse.
  • In Jennifer Fallon's series The Second Son Trilogy, we get to see Dirk literally become this. By becoming the most extreme combination of The Chessmaster and Magnificent Bastard while running on Xanatos Speed Chess with no allies whatsoever he is now actually running the world competently (a first in a loooooong while).
  • Used subtly in The Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy series. At one point, a planet attempts to improve its society by putting all of the population with "useless" jobs (such as "telephone sanitizer") on a spaceship and sending them off somewhere. Their society experiences a boom of technical and artistic achievement... until a disease from an unsanitized telephone destroys all life on the planet. In turn, all of these useless people seem completely incapable of forming a real society by themselves. They name leaves as legal tender and immediately start setting fire to trees to fight inflation.
  • This appears to be the case with "Gentleman" John Marcone of The Dresden Files. He rose to power, taking control of the Chicago Outfit. He's a crime lord, but under his rule, gang violence in Chicago quieted and he's made sure as few civilians were hurt by the criminal underworld as possible. He even personally executes anyone who hurts children in Chicago. It's stated in universe that while no-one is happy that Marcone is so powerful, he's infinitely better than any alternative, so he's mostly left alone by the authorities. In the short story "Aftermath", which takes place shortly after Harry is shot dead at the end of Changes, Murphy unhappily concedes that Marcone is in an even stronger position because as a signatory of the Unseelie Accords and thus a minor power in the Chicago magical community, Marcone has basically become the city's first line of defence against supernatural threats.
  • Bertie Wooster fired Jeeves once. Guess how long that lasted. There are also several other occasions where Bertie simply tries to resolve his difficulties without consulting Jeeves for various reasons (mostly injured pride or not wanting to give up whatever piece of clothing Jeeves disapproves of in gratitude), and it always ends up making things much worse before he's forced to return to Jeeves for help.
  • Foaly in Artemis Fowl occupies this position; the technology he develops is one of the things keeping fairy society hidden from humans, and he's set himself up as being irreplacable to the L.E.P.
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: Emperor Palpatine in Star Wars attempts this. He intentionally organized the entire Empire so that it was basically a huge nonsensical bureaucratic jumble with himself as the only thing holding it together. The idea was that he was so crucial for the continued peace and security of the entire galaxy that no-one would dare attempt to assassinate him for fear of the complete anarchy that would result. Guess what.

Live-Action TV

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • The third and sixth season premières feature Buffy's friends attempting to keep Sunnydale's vampire population in check on their own while she was off finding herself and being dead, respectively. Turns out it's harder than it looks.
    • Also in Season 7 when everyone turns on Buffy and not only deprives her of the leadership but throws her out of her own house, they end up making Faith the leader—and she promptly leads them into a trap. Many fans feel they got what they deserved. Some fans believe that Buffy got what she deserved as well since she wasn't doing all that good of a job leading them herself up to that point, being overly-draconian. She did seem to learn something from the experience, at least.
  • Torchwood sans Captain Jack is in a similar state in the première of the second season.
  • Several times on the US version of Kitchen Nightmares, Ramsay will force a chef that he thinks is useless to leave, only to find the kitchen even worse without him.
  • The Office (US)
    • Michael tells Jan that the employees get less work done when he's absent. Realizing this makes it look like he can't delegate authority, he quickly tells her that they do more work when he's gone. Realizing that looks even worse, he settles on telling her that they do the same amount of work whether he's there or not. That last one might actually be true, as the others' tendency to goof off when he's not around is about equal to his hindrance of their work when he is.
    • In another episode after Dwight is fired temporarily, Michael discovers that Dwight performs certain minor tasks he had always appreciated like arranging his desk items in a pleasing fashion and watering the plants, in addition to his salesman duties.
    • When Michael leaves Jim in charge for the day, this is the same day where Andy learns that Angela has been cheating on him with Dwight. Jim quickly finds himself neck deep in this trope when they both challenge each other to a duel.

Jim: (to the confession cam) Maybe I should just take the day off. Leaving Dwight in charge. Oh god.

  • On How I Met Your Mother it turns out that Ted did all the shopping and owned everything useful in the apartment. When he moves out, Lily and Marshall are left without food, towels, or toilet paper, and get onto each other's nerves without him around to boot.
  • When J.D. initially moves out on Scrubs, Turk and Carla realize that he was the one who did almost everything around the apartment.
  • In The Thick of It, Malcolm is irreplaceable to the extent that his own enemies have to ask him back after getting him sacked.
  • The indispensable wife plot happened at least once on I Love Lucy. Ricky and Fred make a complete mess of the kitchen involving some bad math and a great amount of rice, while Lucy and Ethel... well, make a chocolate factory.
  • Any time Col. Blake or Col. Potter left the 4077th Mash, everything went to pieces, at least as far and Hawkeye and Trapper/B.J. (more often then not Burns/Winchester was left in charge) were concerned. Less comically, Radar's departure in Season 8: Klinger does eventually figure out the filing system & supply deals, but he never develops true Radarism.
  • On Home Improvement, Al tires of being the straight man to Tim and demands they switch roles for an episode of Tool Time, saying "How hard can it be to make lame puns and screw up all the time?" Turns out, pretty hard.
  • In Kaamelott, a few characters (most notably Léodagan) criticize regularly King Arthur's rule and how he's handling the Grail Quest. But once Arthur gets fed up and step down from the throne in "Livre V", the knights find out the hard way that keeping the kingdom afloat is very hard work and beyond them.
  • In one episode of Full House, Danny Tanner decides that being such a perpetual neat-freak (he even regularly cleans his bottles of cleaning products!) is a waste of time... the house falls into total chaos in mere hours. It is only once the others all get together and talk him around that the house gets cleaned again.
  • Subverted in the Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Great Recession," in which the gang demands that Charlie justify his position in the bar. Charlie insists that they can't get by without him doing the "Charlie Work" that no one else wants to do. He runs through his schedule, which includes burning trash in the basement and turning on the "Closed" sign at the start of the day. They promptly fire him and suffer no ill effects for doing so.
  • The Brady Bunch has an episode where Mike and Carol try to prove to each other whether "mom stuff" is harder than "dad stuff". So they switch places, with Carol teaching the boys baseball while Mike helps the girls bake a cake. Of course, hilarity ensues as they make many mistakes. Ultimately, they succeed with a greater appreciation of the other's work, and a lot of sore muscles.
  • Weird meta-variant on this trope: On The Young Ones, a single scene was included in one episode in which the four actors swapped roles with one another ("I'm just not feeling myself today..."). Although the characters switched back before any work needed doing or any of them noticed, Adrian Edmundson's dialogue as the witty Mike included only lame, self-deprecating jokes. This created the (deliberate!) impression that he wasn't nearly as good at portraying Mike's character as was his usual actor.
  • Arrested Development has Michael's constant need to be depended on as one of his flaws. While he conceded that he does like to be needed, any time he takes a day off or "deserts the family once and for all" things fall to pieces. The one time his absence as President sticks it's because he's running things from behind the scenes, and even then things fall apart because he's not President (and therefore has no real say in anything. Also, because Gob is an idiot.)
  • In Farscape Rygel's cousin who mounted a coup to dipose him, sent him into exile as a peacekeeper prisoner for a couple of centuries, and who generally smeared his name with mud, invites him to come back and take the throne by the end of the series because he realises that Jerkass though he is, Rygel is actually a competent and ideal ruler for a race of hynerians.
    • Subverted in the comic that follows the miniseries. Bishan invites Scorpius to serve as his advisor, while using Rygel's last surviving wife to lure him back to Hyneria. In the end, Rygel shows himself a competent leader and earns the devotion of his wife, his generals, and his people by showing that he's not that much of a Jerkass anymore.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Reunions" has Zeus raise Hercules to godhood to protect him from the other Olympians. Hercules turns his back on him until Hera removes Zeus from power. Turns out as bad as Zeus is, without him to provide some restraint on the other gods their behavior and treatment of humans is far worse.
  • In Malcolm in the Middle, the school's social structure is so dependent on Reese being the alpha bully that when he retires from the bullying business the entire social pyramid collapses. Kids are being bullied by a whole array of bullies who each exact their tolls, taking clothes and shoes when there is no lunch money left to steal. Even the "no touching the kid in the wheelchair" immunity he strictly enforced was disrespected, pushing him back to be top dog of the schoolyard again.
  • During one of Michael Weston's voice over monologues in Burn Notice he mentions that one of the least glamorous and most important parts of being a spy is identifying targets within an organization that said organization cannot function without, (often low to mid rank people) and then taking them out.
  • Used on WKRP in Cincinnati when Herb, the sleazy and incompetent sales manager, is called for jury duty and Andy, the hotshot program director, takes over the job. As the Only Sane Employee, Andy thinks he'll do a better job than Herb—except that it turns out that a station as bad as WKRP can only attract deadbeat clients, and only Herb's sleazy techniques can get them to pay the station the money they owe.


  • Dr. Wily in the albums of The Protomen, who realizes early on that the convenience provided to mankind by the worker robots he provides will eventually make them dependent on him.

New Media

Ennesby: You could, in theory, replace the OS, but you'd lose the ability to work with your data.
Thurl: That sounds like the work of one of the old software monopoly hegemonies.
Ennesby: Nope. They wanted to force you into one upgrade path. This trick forces you into no upgrade path.
Thurl: That sounds more like the work of a game console company.

    • Though depending on the particular brand of computer programming involved, this can backfire. In industries where upgrades are important and come quickly, it may turn out that sticking with old code is worse than simply starting anew.

Oral Tradition, Folklore, Myths and Legends

  • Needless to say, many gods effectively have this. Somebody's got to drive the sun chariot or make the crops grow, for example, and if the original deity takes a break, it tends to turn out that either nobody else can do the job at all or else the would-be replacement isn't up to the task, makes a mess of things, and may (if mortal) not even survive the experience.
  • Zeus from Classical Mythology tends to be portrayed this way both in myth and modern pop culture. He is generally recognized for being a better alternative to his father Kronos and is necessary to keep the other gods in line and overall order in the universe from more chaotic forces. In modern adaptations, as bad as Zeus can be at times he is almost always portrayed as better than any possible replacements or no Zeus at all. A few examples include Marvel Comics' The Incredible Hercules, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys, and the Disney |Hercules film.

Puppet Shows

  • In The Muppet Show and sequels where Kermit the Frog is in charge of the entertainment business, the place falls into complete chaos when he is not around. Given what The Muppet Show is like when Kermit is around, this is saying something.


  • Older Than Steam: During the days of the Stuart Succession in the early 1600s, there was an entire slew of these "disguised ruler plays", the most famous of which is Shakespeare's Measure for Measure. Arguably, this is an early subversion, as the Duke states at the opening of the show that one of the reasons he's taking a sabbatical is that he's too soft of a ruler and needs Angelo to step in to administer the punishments that he could not.

Tabletop Games

  • In Exalted, the Scarlet Empress of the Realm disappeared without a trace a few years ago. This has led to a breakdown in just about every area of government, because the Scarlet Empress, knowing how many people would love to dethrone her, made damn sure that she was irreplaceable.
  • When the Ravenloft setting's resident lich, Azalin Rex, blew himself to atoms in a failed attempt to escape his domain of Darkon, the country was left leaderless for several years and most of it descended into chaos. Several lesser villains emerged as "demi-lords" and managed to take limited control of smaller subregions within Darkon, but it wasn't until Azalin acquired a new undead body and reclaimed his throne that things (mostly) settled down there.

Video Games

  • This is largely true of any game system where "The Medic" is a player class option, including tabletop games as well as many video games. One way to tell which team you should join is by the amount of medics they have. If they have at least one more than the opposing team, they're more likely to win.
  • Portal 2 has Chell replacing GLaDOS with an idiotic A.I. named Wheatley. They then spend the rest of the game working to restore GLaDOS to power after Wheatley becomes Drunk with Power and almost destroys the Enrichment Centre through a series of spectacularly bad decisions.

Web Comics

  • In Vexxarr, at one point Carl and Minionbot build a robotic double of Vexxarr to replace him. The double quickly finds out what a horror Vexxarr's position is, demands that Vexxarr take back command, and self-destructs when Vexxarr tries to refuse.
  • R. K. Milholland's secondary strip Midnight Macabre features a variant on this. Local TV station secretary Gladys has a bizarre, completely incomprehensible filing system for the express purpose of making her irreplaceable.

"Competency gets you hired, confusion keeps you employed."

  • Subverted several times in the Ciem Webcomic Series. With Emeraldon gone, Ciem must take over the job of protecting Evansville. She does an okay job, but not as good of one. Then, Emeraldon returns. However, his return is only to be temporary. By the time he's forced to retire for good, the Hebbleskin Gang has been weakened to the point that Ciem is the city's true costumed protector. Then, Ciem gets captured. And the Earwig tries to fill in; making a tremendous mess of things until Ciem can return. Then, after both of them fail to protect one city block from being completely destroyed before Milp was defeated, they agree that they need to spread out across the country to keep the Hebbleskin Gang from focusing so much on Evansville, leaving the city with almost no superhuman protection. And for many years, it ends up not needing any.
  • Baron Wulfenbach from Girl Genius certainly is the quintessential definition of this trope, that without him around and in charge Europa would fall into chaos, and yet no-one seems to get this and many aristocrats continuously are trying to kill him. Wulfenbach is simply a victim of his world. He is virtually indispensable for the continued relative well-being of Europa. You would have to be mad to try to usurp him. The problem is that pretty much all the important people are Sparks; they are mad, and thus rebellions against Wulfenbach erupt like every other week.
  • Roy Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick is a heroic example; when he dies for an arc, the party quickly falls apart in his absence. Haley, whilst his official Number Two and no idiot, is just nowhere near as cut out for managing the various dysfunctions of the party members.

Western Animation

  • Goofy once did the "dad does the housework" version in Father's Day Off. Being Goofy, naturally, the house is left a shambles.
  • In the Rocko's Modern Life episode "She's the Toad", Bev Bighead has to give a business proposal in place of her sick husband. She ends up doing a much better job than Ed usually does.
  • Miriam Pataki does the same thing for Big Bob's Beepers in the Hey Arnold!! episode "The Beeper Queen" when Bob throws his back out and can't work.
  • In the Beast Wars episode "Double Jeopardy", Megatron at one point responds to Terrorsaur's constant and badly thought-out power plays by giving him command and waiting for him to fail. Which he does. Spectacularly.
  • In an episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender in which Sokka goes off to take some weapons training by himself for a day, the rest of the group tries to fill in for him as the comic relief, but they fail miserably. (Also, none of them know how to read maps correctly.) By the time he comes back at the end of the day, everyone is desperate for him to do something funny. More important than the comedy is the planning. Nobody knows what to do with themselves without Sokka directing things, however goofy and incompetent he seemed when he was doing the directing. He was always the one with the vision, and the schedule.
  • Metalocalypse: Charles Foster Ofdensen was the lawyer and manager of Dethklok for years before being killed at the end of Season 2. Once they're left to manage themselves, the band goes from being their own majorly successful economy, and the five richest people in the world, to practically bankrupt in the span of a few months. Good thing Ofdensen turned out to still be alive.
  • One South Park episode features Officer Barbrady, the incompetent policeman, taking a sabbatical so he could learn to read, which led to mass chaos. It wasn't so much that he was good at his job—it's just that as long as somebody was doing it nobody would go out of their way to commit crimes, but without him people decided to just start looting at will. The problem was eventually solved when Cartman took over for a while. Well... depending on one's definition of "solved," anyway.
  • The Futurama episode "Lethal Inspection" saw Hermes and Bender off on an adventure to discover the identity of Bender's factory inspector. Hermes appoints Leela as Lil' Bureaucrat until he returns. Leela is quickly overwhelmed by the volume of paperwork, finally resorting to hiding papers behind potted plants. By the time Hermes returns, Planet Express is in shambles. Hermes saves the day by simply tossing all the paperwork into the furnace.
  • The Simpsons
    • When Marge Simpson went to jail for accidentally shoplifting a whiskey bottle, she was absent from her usual bake sale table with her Rice Krispies squares. The chain of events snowballed into city-wide riots, at which point everyone realized how important Marge was.
    • In the earlier episode "Little Big Mom", Marge is sent to Springfield Presbyterian Hospital because an antique clock fell on and broke her leg. After a quick tiff between the the two of who can do a better job of taking care of Bart and Homer, Lisa is left in charge. Things dissolve quickly after a couple months of being in charge: All of the dishes are rusted through, there is at least a few feet of water in the kitchen and living room. the cops have been called and shooed away at least once, and the food supply is drastically dwindling. Lisa, in a nod to I Love Lucy, tries to scare Bart and Homer into doing chores by making them think they have leprosy. Instead of the two actually doing chores, they run to a lepers' colony in Molokai, Hawaii, using all of the Christmas money Ned was saving up to send them there. Lisa does eventually clean the mess up by herself, but it takes the combined efforts of both Marge and Lisa to track Homer and Bart down.
    • In one episode Smithers is ill and Mr. Burns vows to save him—noting that otherwise he would have to teach a new assistant his filing system.
  • In one episode of Cyberchase, the drum player from one of the best bands on the Mount Olympus was kidnapped and convinced by Hacker that he'd be better appreciated as a solo act. The rest of the team were already thinking of of dumping him, as they didn't think that he added anything to the band. Turned out, he was the most important member, since he seems to be the only one who can keep the proper rhythm pattern (the day's lesson) and without him, the music was awful. The band player is eventually convinced to come back and he reunites with his bandmates, who finally realize how important he is.
  • In Biker Mice From Mars episode "I, Greasepit", Lawrence Limburger believed he'd never be fired because nobody else would apply for the job. His boss then demoted him and hired Greasepit to take over Limburger's former job.

Real Life

  • Louis XIV: "L'État, c'est moi."—courtesy of his reforms to centralize French power in his person. If a noble wanted their state pension and the privileges of nobility, they had to wait on him at Versailles almost constantly rather than remaining on their own estates, while his appointed bureaucrats got on with the business of governance in Paris. Those bureaucrats in turn relied entirely on royal favour to back their authority, as they invariably lacked aristocratic blood of their own. On the foreign front, his strong support for Gallicanism (special liberties for the French Church) meant that the Pope could not alienate him personally without losing France entirely. Notably, and rarely for this trope, his influence even continued after his death—the regency for Louix XV tried to restore the nobility's former rights, only to find that thanks to Louis XIV's long reign (72 years), no-one among the nobility knew how to run so much as a corner shoppe, which left the power Louis XIV once commanded to the very ministries that had relied on his favour for survival.
    • Unfortunately, this came back to haunt France in ways Louis XIV could never have imagined when Louis XV and Louis XVI took the throne. One of the secrets to Louis XIV's success was his keen eye for talent and his skill at managing his ministers. When Louis XV and Louis XVI took over, they proved to be far less competent and the whole system began to rot, before finally exploding in the French Revolution.
    • Also, during the brief period between the reigns of Louis XIII (or rather, Cardinal Richelieu) and Louis XIV, the nobles temporarily deposed Mazarin, Richelieu's successor, and ruled France for about a year. It... didn't go so well.
  • After the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by a coup led by the Daimyos of Satsuma and Choshu, the Emperor Meiji was 'restored' to his position as leader of the country. For the first few decades of his reign, however, it was the members of his Cabinet who held the real power. But as they died off, the constitution they had laid down left the Emperor in the increasingly critical capacity of power-broker between the forces of the army, the navy, the civil service and the virtually powerless and constantly changing elected government. Meiji was a reasonably capable politician who could handle his increasing role. But it was under the less able Taisho that the Emperor truly came into this role and he struggled to keep the military in check. His successor, Hirohito, was not cut out for the position. Thus the military came to dominate the Cabinet and the government in general, and though the army acted on its own in its Chinese adventures, the government gave them its support.
  • Ivan the Terrible—who could be Dangerously Genre Savvy at times—pulled this off to the letter. Facing constant interference in his rule from nobles and royal bureaucrats, he responded by taking an indefinite leave of absence from his duties. After the nobles had made a right mess of things, the people begged him to return and sort things out, which he did. On the condition that he could rule as an absolute monarch.
    • Stalin, who seemed to respect Ivan's example in many things, also seized power by threatening to resign and leave a power vacuum.
  • During the Cold War, the United States supported dictatorships in order secure support against communist expansion. [1], [2] [dead link]
    • The Soviet Union gave thousands of AK-47s to any government or organization that opposed capitalism.
      • The Soviets also gave them the blueprints, free of charge. So for just about every communist or former communist nation, there's an AK variant.
  • North Korea has not collapsed because the surrounding nations do not want an exodus of refugees and a possible civil war between the military and secret police agencies. However, China does want North Korea to act more civilized and cease the frequent border incidents with South Korea.
  • Mao probably codified this trope; he did this no fewer than three times, leaving the much less talented Politburo/Assembly to mess things up whenever their interference crossed the line. Each time Mao would come back with more power and influence than before.
    • Deng Xiaoping did him one better. This is the man Mao couldn't get rid of despite all attempts to purge him since he was the only one in the party competent at economic policy. When Mao tried to do his job or get somebody else to do it, China's economy went to the toilet. He was so effective that even though Mao went to great lengths to ensure that Deng would never come to power after his death, Deng still became leader of China anyway.
    • Mind you, he was never officially the leader—he preferred to be The Man Behind the Man, controlling the government through the Communist Party's Central Military Commission and Central Advisory Committee (which despite its nominally advisory role was actually the most powerful organ of the Party while it existed; Party wags jokingly called it the "Sitting Committee," in contrast to the Politburo Standing Committee, which is supposed to be the highest Party organ). This tendency may have been a reaction to Mao's interference. In any case, this definitely helped him secure his indispensibility.
  • John Brown, in the run-up to his raid on Harpers Ferry, faced a lot of grumbling by his followers. He promptly resigned and offered to follow any of them who wanted to lead; they all re-elected him as leader unanimously.
  • Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has a few traits in common with both Vetinari and Louis XIV (although he was no Magnificent Bastard). He was the second longest-serving Prime Minister in Australian history, but since his party's loss at the last election (at the time of this writing, a little under 2.5 years ago) the party has gone through two leaders and is now on a third. They are still yet to go to the polls, which should happen later in 2010 have now been called for late August, 2010. If they lose again, expect them to have their fifth leader in as many years.
    • Similarly, Kevin Rudd wanted to be this... but as it turned out his deputy, Julia Gillard, was what kept him in that position for most of his term. When Rudd insisted on screwing up publicly a few too many times, she stepped up with just a few months to the election.
      • Now the election and furore is over, Gillard is still in power. Just. It seems that much as Howard was a focus for the Liberals, Rudd was a focus for Labor, and the Government is now reliant on a couple of Independants to stay in power. (Although it needs to be said that the embarassingly poor campaigns by both major parties sure as hell didn't help.)
    • Arguably, Jean Chrétien seems to have been much the same for the Liberal Party of Canada - since his retirement, party fortunes have declined steadily through three different leaders, and they're presently (June 2011) run by an interim leader while they make preparations for another. History may yet view Steven Harper (present Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party of Canada) in the same light; certainly, he's managed to unite (and keep quiet) any number of significantly diverging viewpoints to steadily increasing fortunes - but given the rather far-flung positions of some of his party members, it remains questionable whether or not the party will survive his departure. Both of these men are well-known both for their intolerance of dissent and for their creation of the same within party ranks.
  • In the early days of the Nazi Party in Germany, before it came to power, Hitler threatened to quit unless the party's governing committee gave all power to him and acknowledged him as the party's undisputed Fuhrer. By this time Hitler had already made himself indispensable as NSDAP's principal public face, public speaker and fundraiser; so he got his way, and kept on getting his way right to the end.
  • Mobutu Sese Seko ruled the Democratic Republic of the Congo from 1965 to 1997. The country devolved into warfare once he got too old and sick to control things.
  • Josip Broz Tito was a leading member of the Partisan movement that liberated Yugoslavia during WW 2, he was Prime Minister from 1943 to 1953, and President from 1953 to his death in 1980. Soon after he died tensions started building, and the leaders of the republics took the Presidency in turns but some people just wouldn't play nice- result: no more Yugoslavia.
  • This was the card Cosimo de' Medici pulled in order to reconquer the power of Florence from the Albizzi family. When they overthrew him, he went into exile and let the Albizzi rule Florence for a decade, knowing that they were less competent in economical affairs, instead of immediately make his moves. As he had calculated, the economy of Florence collapsed during their governing and the people became angry and frustrated at the Albizzi family. Seeing the opportunity, Cosimo de' Medici went back into Florence and with the people's support, overthrew the Albizzi family and went into a witch hunt against those who had supported them.
  • Niccolò Machiavelli actively encouraged this policy when he wrote The Prince for Lorenzo II de' Medici (descendant of the aforementioned Cosimo and the grandson of the first Lorenzo); however, Lorenzo died from syphilis before he could put the trope into fruition. Machiavelli's words of wisdom lived on and have helped keep 'politicians' in power world over.
  • Speaking of Florence, after winning the design competition for the dome of the Florence Cathedral, Filippo Brunelleschi had to share leadership of the project with Lorenzo Ghiberti, one of the runners up. Brunelleschi became annoyed at the fact that despite Ghiberti earning the same salary as him and earning equal credit for the project, he left most of the work for Brunelleschi while entertaining himself with other projects. Thus Brunelleschi started taking a large number of "sick days" (though some were legitimate) leaving Ghiberti in charge. Eventually Ghiberti acknowledged he couldn't handle everything himself and quit, leaving Brunelleschi with sole responsibility.
  • Mentioned in The Register (maybe):

Within a year, Jobs and his NeXT colleagues had purged Apple executives from all the key positions (although the chief accountant remained -- which may tell you something about chief accountants).

  • Phillip II, King of Castile and Aragon and Sicily, Lord Protector of Navarre, Duke of Milan and the Low Countries—a.k.a. Phillip II of Spain—was famous for his desire to try and administer his territories himself, insofar as that was possible. He would work from dawn to dusk reading reports and signing off paperwork in the process of trying to personally oversee as many state functions as possible. He founded a new governing council to feed him a constant stream of advice and did his best to foster rivalries among the nobilities and principalities. Though he was intelligent and a capable ruler, his realms were just too large and diverse for him to govern effectively, and he was too hesitant and indecisive in governing them. Under his leadership his realms were involved in several costly European wars, and he was forced to declare bankruptcy no less than three times. This gave him and his realms the worst credit rating in all of 16th Century Europe. His son and grandson, however, were not up to his standards and under their leadership the composite monarchy was to suffer as they tried to leave the governing of their realms to "favourites" and governing councils so that they would not have to bear Phillip II's workload and could spend more time enjoying themselves.
  • Subverted by Ahmed Wali Karzai, half-brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, was for all intents and purposes, the boss of Kandahar. Recognized by both friend and foe as indispensable, and known for being a pretty decent ruler for a nepotistic warlord. He was nevertheless assassinated, probably by people who felt that instability and a poorly-run Kandahar were in their interest.
    • Hamid Karzai himself is a straight example though, as despite his government's frequent accusations of corruption and incompetence he's still around after a decade in office, because he's the one figure that everyone involved in Afghanistan can agree with. Being a member of the prominent Pashto ethnicity doesn't exactly hurt matters either.
  • No matter how grandly-titled an organization's official leaders are likely to be, odds are pretty good that it's their secretaries/personal assistants/aides who do most of the essential paperwork and know what's really going on.