TheManBehindTheMan controls a real leader behind the scenes. Some leaders may even employ a BodyDouble to confuse [[ProfessionalKiller assassins]]. But sometimes, that leader puts a decoy in front of them to avoid the limelight and long daggers.

A Decoy Leader takes the place of a leader and impersonates them, often conducting him or herself as if they were the real deal. Often, the real leader feeds them instructions via audio device, hand signals, extensive training, or other means so the leader can conduct meaningful policy. Usually, the decoy is willing to die for the leader, and has little to no political ambitions at all.

Where this gets interesting is that the decoy doesn't need to look anything like the leader either. The leader may be a MasterOfDisguise or can at least [[SheCleansUpNicely clean up nicely]], which she'll use in order to move around royal and civil society freely. In fact, the leader will likely enjoy going about with the common folk. Of course, a savvy hero or villain will be able to tell this KingIncognito out.

Compare PuppetKing, where the actual legal leader has become purely a tool for somebody else. The logical extreme of this trope is the ElCidPloy, where the real leader may be missing or even dead but still "commands" because another is impersonating him or (as in the original) no one realizes that he's dead. Also compare with TheManInFrontOfTheMan, for when TheManBehindTheMan poses as a supposed minion of the Decoy Leader.



[[folder:Anime and Manga]]
* In ''LightNovel/RakuinNoMonshou'', this was Fedom's plan when Prince Gil was shot. Orba would take over the Prince's spot in the Empire and eventually become Emperor, with Fedom manipulating him to become the power behind the throne.
* In ''Manga/FairyTail'', the GreaterScopeVillain E.N.D. is touted as the master of the dark guild Tartaros, but is [[SealedEvilInACan sealed within a book]] carried by Mard Geer, his NumberTwo. However, the truth is that E.N.D. was sealed in his book all along, and Mard Geer merely used the book as a figure to rally the rest of the guild around, effectively passing his own orders off as the will of E.N.D. [[spoiler:Moreover, the book only contains E.N.D.'s demonic essence; his real identity is Natsu, the main character, who ironically ends up helping tear down the very dark guild he was presumed to have built without anyone the wiser.]]

[[folder:Comic Books]]
%%* Creator/FrankMiller's ''Comicbook/TheDarkKnightStrikesAgain'' employs this.
* Mr. Pilgrim from ''Comicbook/SteelgripStarkeyAndTheAllPurposePowerTool''.
* One might consider Doctor Doom doing this by proxy of [[ActuallyADoombot Doombots]], whilst he can do research or fight the ComicBook/FantasticFour for MacGuffin they "lead" the country.
* One of the [[MultipleChoicePast various origins]] of ComicBook/TheJoker involved this. A criminal gang would hire a random smuck to dress up as the villainous Red Hood, and accompany them during heists. The police would assume that the supervillain is obviously the leader, and all the others are just hired Mooks, an assumption that the gang members would back up if they were ever caught. That way, they could get less severe prison sentences. If the "Red Hood" ever wanted out, they could just replace him with someone else, as the costume totally obscured the face. The scheme worked for a while, until they ran into Batman, and that crime's "Red Hood" was knocked into a vat of chemicals...

* In ''Film/BatmanBegins'', [[spoiler:Ra's Al Ghul uses a decoy as supposed leader of the League of Shadows. However, the decoy supposedly doesn't speak English and has the real Ra's "translating" for him, so he's effectively just a figurehead]]. Another scene reveals [[spoiler:that the decoy ''can'' speak English, which helps sell deception to the viewer]]. Also seen later (or earlier depending on perspective) in court when a {{Mook|s}} claims to be the actual head of the Falcone crime family.
* Kuato the mutant in the original ''Film/TotalRecall1990'' was hidden under the shirt of his decoy "host".
* The title character in ''Film/{{Dave}}'' was supposed to be this, but he ended up turning against his handlers.
* ''Franchise/StarWars''
** In ''Film/ThePhantomMenace'', Queen Amidala operates as the [[KingIncognito Queen Incognito]] Padme -- which is her real name -- and throughout the movie has a decoy-bodyguard, Sabe, who replaces her. Both happen to be [[ActionGirl handy with a blaster.]] Helping the deception along is the fact that the Queen of Naboo always wears heavy ceremonial makeup.
** In the original cut of the scene in ''Film/ANewHope'' where Solo talks to Jabba in front of the Falcon, he was talking to a human. One of the short stories in the Expanded Universe explains that this man was a decoy authorized to negotiate with smugglers in Jabba's name. Then the remastered version of the film rendered that explanation meaningless when they have Han talk to the real Jabba in that scene.
* A scene in ''Film/TheLastKingOfScotland'' sees Nicholas mistake a double of Idi Amin for the genuine article, which gives the real Idi Amin much to laugh about.
* ''Film/SupermanII''. The President of the United States tries this when the three Kryptonian super villains drop in for a visit. General Zod is not fooled, however.
-->'''Zod''': You are the one they call "President"?\\
'''Guy''': I am.\\
'''Zod''': ... KneelBeforeZod.\\
'''Guy''': [kneels]\\
'''Zod''': You are not the President. No one who leads so many could possibly kneel so quickly.\\
'''President''': [Steps forward] They're protecting me. I'm the President.
* At the end of ''Film/TheEagleHasLanded'' the protagonist appears to successfully assassinate Winston Churchill before being shot. [[spoiler: However it turns out he was an impersonator and the real Churchill [[ShaggyDogStory was at the Tehran conference all along]]. It was noted that if he had spoke, it would have blown it.]]
* In ''Film/WildWildWest'', the first version of UsefulNotes/UlyssesSGrant we see is actually Artemus Gordon, but Jim West sees through the deception. Seconds later the real Grant arrives and chews them both out, suggesting he was unaware of what Gordon was doing. Note that both Gordon and Grant are played by the same actor. This gets repeated in a later scene where Loveless tries to kidnap the President and Gordon shows up disguised as Grant to buy the President time to escape. Unfortunately, before the President figures out that he's supposed to be leaving so that the imposter can be kidnapped, Loveless grabs them both. Gordon can't help but [[ButHeSoundsHandsome praise himself]] even when in-character, which is partly what causes West to realize he's not the President. The other reason? Gordon forgot to take off his Harvard ring. West is fully aware that Grant attended West Point.
* In ''Film/IronMan3'' [[spoiler:"The Mandarin" is actually a washed up vice-addled British actor named Trevor Slattery hired by Aldrich Killian, the real villain, to "explain" the explosions caused by Killian's supersoldiers loosing control of their powers by making them seem terrorist attacks]].

* ''Literature/{{Gor}}''
** In ''Nomads of Gor'' the leaders of the four tribes of Wagon Peoples [sic] all employ these - the Wagon Peoples know who the leaders really are but outsiders think the decoys are the leaders.
** An Earth girl is also substituted for a female Gorean leader in ''Kajira of Gor''.
* ''[[Recap/DoctorWhoNewAdventuresDeathAndDiplomacy Death and Diplomacy]]'' takes this a step further: even the real leader thinks that the decoy is the one in charge. Confusing things further, his people have set up a cunning double bluff where he's officially the leader, meaning that [[IKnowYouKnowIKnow everyone assumes he's the decoy]], and the "minor official" he consults with (the actual decoy) is the real leader. (In theory. When he learns the truth, the swiftness with which his people accept it leads him to suspect [[EverybodyKnewAlready that maybe they all knew apart from him all along]].) Complicated double-dealing and duplicity are this race's [[PlanetOfHats hat]].
* In the Franchise/BattleTechExpandedUniverse, several novels detail uses of decoys for a variety of leaders: Jenna Clay subbing for Melissa Steiner is the most straightforward of these, but Hanse Davion and Thomas Marik both had doubles. Hanse's double was a plot by Maximilian Liao to take control of the Federated Suns, but Thomas Marik's double was a plot by ... Thomas Marik.
* An interesting variation in ''[[Literature/XWingSeries Starfighters of Adumar]]'': General Wedge Antilles arranges for [[{{Redshirts}} a couple of fighters in each squadron]] of his allied force to have identity transponders that can switch between their real details (Adumari pilots gain prestige from downing more experienced foes, so this information is readily available even to the enemy) and one picked from the [[AcePilot top thirty or so pilots in the force]]. Likewise the genuine best pilots could switch their [=IDs=] for nobodies. In addition to general misdirection and confusion ("How'd that guy end up on the opposite end of the battlefield?"), he hopes the [[ProudWarriorRace honor-obsessed Cartaanese pilots]] will go haring off after the decoy aces (who would ideally be good at evading even if they were bad shots), allowing the alliance's best shooters time to line up. He also exploited the relatively primitive Adumari sensors by having a squadron of fighters fly in tight formation and all broadcast the same ID, so that [[ActuallyFourMooks they'd appear to be a single large bomber or command ship until the enemy got into visual range]], while at the same time having the command ships and bombers broadcast multiple [=IDs=] so they would appear to be fighter squadrons without any prestigious aces (or with them, in the case of the well-shielded and heavily-armed command ships), thus allowing the bombers to more easily reach their targets.

[[folder:Live Action TV]]
* ''Series/TwentyFour''
** One time when CTU was invaded by bad guys they asked "who's in charge?" One guy (who wasn't in charge, but was in love with the woman who was in charge) stood up and said "I am," so they shot him.
** This was the case of the first season's BigBad, Victor Drazen. Before the events of the series Jack led a team to assassinate him, but wound up killing one of these instead (IDW's comic prequel, ''Nightfall'' also shows this in more detail).
* In the ''Series/ArrestedDevelopment'' episode, "Exit Strategy", the [[spoiler: UsefulNotes/SaddamHussein on trial]] clams to be this, alleging that the real [[spoiler: Saddam]] has [[spoiler: a scar on his head and [[JustForPun "I'm No-Scar...]] [[RunningGag Dot Com]]!"]]
** In "[[GrandFinale Development Arrested]]", [[spoiler: George Sr is revealed to have been this for the Bluth company all along; Lucille is the real BigBad of the series]].
* In an episode of ''Series/StargateSG1'' involving [[ManchurianAgent brainwashed assassins]] programmed to sabotage negotiations between the Unites States and the Tok'ra, ''both'' sides do this.
* It's eventually revealed that the person in charge of TheConspiracy in ''Series/{{Utopia}}'' is [[spoiler: ''not'' Letts but his [[NoNameGiven anonymous aide]]. And then the assistant turns out to be a cleverly disguised foil, and the real [[TheManBehindTheMan Man Behind the Man]] is Milner.]]
* ''Series/KamenRiderV3'' ends with [[spoiler: the skull of Destron's leader being cracked open, revealing only a tape player.]]
** ''Series/KamenRiderAmazon'' reveals that [[spoiler: the Emperor Zero that's been in charge the whole time is really just a stand-in for the real one.]]

[[folder:Tabletop Games]]
* One D&D adventuring party that was written up in ''Polyhedron'' magazine included a gnoll henchman who, thanks to what his human companions ''thought'' would be a one-time ruse to sneak him into a city, wound up becoming renowned as a powerful (human) knight whom the other party members served. It became routine for him to put on full plate armor and ride impressively in the midst of the group, who played along at being the "mighty knight's" minions because having such a famous warrior among them got them more respect (and higher payment for their work) than having a sidekick.
* In one ''TabletopGame/{{Paranoia}}'' module, The Computer anticipates StraightForTheCommander and arranges for a decoy. As usual, it DidntThinkThisThrough:
--> '''Green-clearance Team Leader''': All right, men, let's go!
--> '''Bystander''': ''(eyeing "Blue"-clearance Executive Officer)'' Hey, why are you letting him order you around?
--> '''"Blue"-clearance Executive Officer''': Hey, yeah! ''*BLAM BLAM BLAM BLAM*'' All right, men, let's go!

* Used in ''Theatre/HenryVI'' by the Dauphin of France to test whether UsefulNotes/JoanOfArc could tell the difference. (She could.)

[[folder:Video Games]]
* Parodied in ''VideoGame/BangaiO'' with Nise ([[ExactlyWhatItSaysOnTheTin Fake]]) Gai, a doppelganger that the Cosmo Gang occasionally uses to substitute [[BigBad Gai]] in battle. Given that he wears a [[PaperThinDisguise flimsy disguise]] and [[CardCarryingVillain overacts]] his assigned role, it's no wonder that [[KidHero Riki]] sees right through him. The latter then decides to briefly mess with the former a little, [[ObfuscatingStupidity assuming]] that he [[BlatantLies is the ''real'' Gai after all]].
* In ''VideoGame/DarkSouls'', [[spoiler:"Gwynevere" is actually an illusion controlled by the Dark Sun Gwyndolin, the real Gwynevere having abandoned Anor Londo long ago to marry a foreign god. Even "her" sunlight is just an illusion which is dispelled if the player kills "Gwynevere".]]
* The head of the Valkyr drug cartel in ''VideoGame/MaxPayne'' is thought to be TheDon Angelo Punchinello. However, the real head is [[spoiler:the CorruptCorporateExecutive of Aesir Corp, Nicole Horne]].
* The ruler of the Shi in ''VideoGame/{{Fallout 2}}'' is publicly known to be the Shi Emperor, who hides from public view for security. The ''actual'' ruler turns out to be [[spoiler: the Emperor's adviser. As it turns out the 'Emperor' is a -- non-sapient -- supercomputer the supposed adviser uses as an aide to making decisions which are then passed on to the public as the Emperor's decisions.]]
* Seen in ''VideoGame/TheElderScrollsVSkyrim'', but only if [[spoiler:the player joins the Dark Brotherhood and completes the quest chain. One of the final missions involves killing ''the Emperor himself'' by impersonating a famous chef and poisoning his soup. Of course, it turns out that the one who eats the soup is merely a decoy; the real Emperor is encountered later in the chain.]]

* ''Webcomic/GenocideMan'': In the absence of Jacob and Dr. Fumiaki, Msaka assumes command of the Corvo Islanders, but immediately finds that Girii's [[TheEmpath empathy]] gives her effective veto power. Her solution is to abdicate and make Girii the leader instead... giving exactly the orders that the fearsome Msaka "advises" her to give.

[[folder:Web Original]]
* [[DiabolicalMastermind The Empress]] of [[NebulousEvilOrganization Tarot]], from the ''Roleplay/GlobalGuardiansPBEMUniverse'', uses this technique to protect herself from assassins, something she has to worry about because she's in a power-struggle to control [[AncientConspiracy Tarot]] with [[DiabolicalMastermind The Emperor of Tarot]].

[[folder:Real Life]]
* During the [[ battle of Kulikovo field]] in 1380 prince of Moscow Dmitry "of Don" gave his recognizable bright armour, banner and the horse to a young warrior, while Dmitry donned simple armour and fought as an ordinary footman. The obvious explanation that Dmitry was hiding in a safer place is often contested -- he went to the "big" (central) regiment, where the fighting was expected to be (and was) the most brutal.[[note]]The usual tactics against tartar cavalry was basically this: the small front regiment slows them down, the big central regiment stops and ties them down, then mounted regiments hit from flanks. 2/3 losses for the central regiment were not uncommon.[[/note]] The decoy boyarin was killed, Dmitry was wounded, trampled and left for dead, but ultimately survived. His exact motives are still debated.