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Vetinari Job Security
aka: Vetinari Paradox
"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 that 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.note 

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, and The Reliable One.

Examples

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    Anime & 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.
    • Lelouch/Zero generally is an excellent example of this trope. When he's around, the Black Knights are a force to be reckoned with; when he's not, however, such as when he's lured away during crucial battle in the finale of the first season... yeah, things don't tend to go so well.
  • This was used as the argument behind not taking down Goldie Muso in the second Gunsmith Cats series, even though 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 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.
  • A Johto episode of Pokémon had Brock getting sick, leaving Ash and Misty to do his chores. This turns out to be quite a bit, including the cooking, which Misty fails to replicate.

    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.
  • In the DC Universe, whenever Darkseid is briefly removed from power, his lieutenants all battle amongst themselves, plunging Apokolips into a civil war until he inevitably returns. Oddly, this is a case the heroes slightly encourage. If the lieutenants are fighting each other, they tend to be too busy to invade Earth. And the citizens of Apokolips are, arguably, better off with several would-be overlords than with Darkseid in charge. In Kingdom Come, when Orion disposes of Darkseid for good and seizes the planet, he soon finds that countless generations of tyranny have made the population brainless and morally-bankrupt, so freeing them just gave them what they needed to slaughter each other mindlessly. His attempts at social reform fail, leading him to just sit and brood over it in his father's old palace.
  • Like Darkseid, the Marvel Universe's Doctor Doom invariably returns to his position as dictator of Latveria because his successors alaways turn out to be as bad or worse than he is and the country falls apart in his absence

    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 Scarlet Devil Mansion. 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.
  • Prince Zuko from Vathara's fic Embers has decided to set up a colony in a supervolcano that only he can prevent from erupting. (It has killed the last two Avatars who tried to stop it, and will take out the Northern Air Temple, various actual Fire-Lord-Approved Fire Nation colonies, and half the Earth Kingdom if it blows.)
  • Naruto: Hidan is, in canon, as close to a one-off villain as Akatsuki gets (considering he's the only true immortal while the rest get to reprise as zombies). In Gender Confusion, however, he basically amounts to being the lynchpin to the universe, where him being put out of commission for a few weeks leads to a god going into a coma to keep the universe from collapsing in on itself.
  • The whole point of the Transformers fanfic When You're Gone. To specify, Prowl ends up in stasis, and the other Bots (who hate him for his supposed sparklessness) have to take on his duty...only to discover just how difficult it really is.
  • Celestia has cemented her rule through this in Diaries of a Madman, by making herself so essential to the running of Equestria that no one would want to see her removed from power. Nav questions her over this at one point, since she could rule on merit alone.
  • In a lot of Torchwood fanfic, Ianto Jones occupies this state, since he organises the entirety of Team Torchwood, handling the admin. This is fortunate when the leader is practically the definition of Military Maverick (though his relationship with the military is a little difficult to quantify), the second in command tends to be better with practical things, like shooting people/aliens/objects, the team doctor is a bitter, high functioning alcoholic and the team tech genius is amiably scatter brained.
    • And then there's the fact that he's the Patron Saint of Coffee, which the team collectively ingests in large quantities.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Mr. Mom
  • Kramer Vs. Kramer
  • Sutler in V for Vendetta invokes this trope. It doesn't help.
    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 "Dark Ages" were the result of him taking a vacation (Word of God states this was meant to be a joke). 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.

     Jokes 
  • The organs of the body held a meeting to decide which one of them should be in charge. "I should be in charge of the body," said the Brain, "Because I do all the thinking and send out nerve signals. Without me, nothing would happen!" "I should be in charge," said The Heart, "Because I pump blood to all of you, ensuring that you get all the oxygen and nutrients you need to do your jobs." "I should be in charge," said the Rectum, "Because I'm responsible for waste disposal." All the other organs laughed at him, and he immediately shut down. Within a day, the blood was toxic, and aches and pains and general sickness ensued. "All right, Rectum!" said the Brain. "You can be in charge! Just, please, take care of this waste problem!" The moral of the story? You don't have to be smart or important to be in charge, just an asshole!

    Literature 
  • Animorphs: In which Mr. Responsible Jake has to leave for a week and Rachel, who is, to put it diplomatically, something of a violence junkie, is made temporary leader. The end result is Cassie getting captured and dangerously close to the 2-hour limit.
  • Discworld
    • The Trope Namer is Ankh-Morpork's current Patrician 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 (including each other). Several times he has been forced out of power (or quietly stepped aside when asked), then immediately resumed his usual role when the new regime collapses from its own inability to deal with the crisis that was their excuse to seize power in the first place. Many books set in Anhk-Morpork involve plots to overthrow him or remove him as a happy side effect of another goal (Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Truth, Making Money). This is, of course, just as planned — while Machiavelli may say it is better to be feared than loved, Vetinari holds that being permanent is best of all, and has remade the political system around him to work best when he's leading it. The trope comes into effect when people like Sam Vimes, William de Worde, and Moist von Lipwig, who don't like Vetinari at all, still find themselves forced to help stop those plots because the alternative is worse (the time-travel novel Night Watch explains quite graphically just how bad things were before Vetinari came to power). The conspiracy in The Truth comes closest to succeeding, but is foiled by Vetinari's symbiotic relationship with the Watch and the nascent Morporkian free press. Reading through the books in order, it becomes clear that over time fewer and fewer people are actually willing to attempt removing Vetinari and those few are getting more and more unhinged. It is explicitly stated that although Vetinari's power is resented by citizens both low and high, they do rather like that he's turned the city into the economic and cultural hub of the entire Disc and aren't inclined to go through all the fuss and muss of changing Patricians. He has tamed the city like a dog… and most dogs do not like it when the master is no longer around.
      • Vetinari's an extremely good judge of character and part of his success has been in ensuring that other major city institutions are run by the most competent and reasonable candidates. Examples: giving Sam Vimes' Watch real power and funding after he cleaned up his drinking problem, letting William de Worde become the de facto leader of the Fourth Estate, and quietly supporting Ponder Stibbons' rise at Unseen University. Moist von Lipwig is Vetinari's most recent protégé. As a master con man, Moist is capable of changing bureaucratic institutions like the postal and banking systems that otherwise would never have a prayer of reasonable reform, and changing them in ways that eventually become self-sustaining and don't require his continual involvement. This suggests that Vetinari is slowly working towards an Ankh-Morpork that needs a capable leader who can continue his balancing act but also an Ankh-Morpork that will not immediately fall off a cliff after he dies… deconstructing his own job security.
    • 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 in regards to assassination attempts on himself.
      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 Watch officer leave town temporarily for various reasons and Colon is left the most senior officer. 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 — to which Ridcully is immune by simply being way too robust and powerful for most couchpotato wizards to kill (one attempted assassin went deaf for two weeks — and not just for the position of Archchancellor, 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."
    • Ponder Stibbons has moved into Vetinari Job Security as, essentially, chief administrator of Unseen University by Unseen Academicals. Ridcully's method of dealing with paperwork is to put it all in a pile and ignore it, as well as anyone trying to talk to him about its contents. Ponder has progressively picked up the slack on all of this, is the only one who understands all of the University's customs, rules, and finances, and by now holds majority vote in staff meetings though few of the other wizards have taken any notice.
    • The Librarian is another example of this trope within UU. 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 in 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 vestigial virgins, help handle collections, and so forth. 3. Continue step 2 until she is considered indispensable 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.
    • Lu-Tze is also an example. He's a Sweeper at the History Monks head-quarters, and that's a loathed job by itself, but one that absolutely needs to be done. Lu-Tze is also one of the most adept History Monks alive and a legend in his own lifetime. Most of the monks can't stand him and try their best to exclude him or work their way around him wherever possible. Unfortunately for them, he's indispensible: not only in terms of ability and experience but in sheer common sense... which is often his greatest weapon in a world that often observes common sense isn't that common. Still... most of them have at least learned to value Rule One by now.
  • 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 Hitchhiker's 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 that turns out to be Earth, circa 2 million years ago.. 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; tsk, such biting social commentary. 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.
    • Harry himself falls under this: he slowly but surely goes from respected practitioner - and technically, the most powerful in the city - and black sheep of the White Council to the Warden Commander for the entire Western United States, the unofficial representative of the younger generation of wizardry - the actual poster boy for that generation looks up to him - and supernatural defender of Chicago with a reputation as The Dreaded so strong that when he 'dies' Chicago becomes a supernatural war zone. Interestingly, he got this completely by accident.
  • 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. Primarily because he's coded a hidden virus into every piece of software so that if anyone who's not him so much as tries to start up the systems, the whole thing would come 'crashing down around their pointy ears'. Though while he can't be fired, he can have his salary docked.
  • 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.
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, Littlefinger is this as the kingdom's Master of Coin (basically the royal treasurer). In the prelude to the series beginning, he has gathered an enormous amount of power by controlling virtually the entire economy of the seven kingdoms. Most treasurers would simply collect taxes and call it good, but Littlefinger took those taxes and invested them, doubling and redoubling his incomes until the royal treasury collects nearly ten times the annual revenue of just over a decade before. And all the while, he's appointed his own people into various subordinate offices, nearly all of them non-nobles or foreigners with great merit who owe their livelihoods to him. His job is safe on two counts: one, he's so damn good at it that removing him would be almost unthinkable, and two, he himself is a noble of almost no renown. He's no knight and has no sworn swords, his lands are tiny and poor, and his house has almost no influence in and of itself with the nobility. Such a successful Master of Coin who also commanded great armies would be an enormous threat, but Littlefinger has no armies and is willing to work with anybody, happily exposing their backs for the inevitable.
    • In the later half of the series, he's appointed Lord of Harrenhal and Lord Paramount of the Riverlands and leaves King's Landing. His immediate successors range from middling to downright incompetent, leading Hands and regents alike to think, "Gods, I wish Baelish were back here; he would know what to do". Little do they know that Littlefinger has bigger fish to fry. It's implied that Littlefinger has done this on purpose while concealing just how much he's needed, turning the finances of Westeros into a time bomb that starts ticking the moment he leaves the city.
  • The Taiko in Shogun, to a degree where after his rather unexpected death the whole of Japan has descended to chaos. While he was alive, the major daimyos wouldn't have dreamed of turning on him. Of course, since he died two years before the protagonist came to the scene, the book depicts the daimyos taking political scheming Up to Eleven.
  • Sherlock Holmes: In "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans"]], Mycroft Holmes is said to be an example of this for the entire British government. While it has experts on every possible topic, Mycroft is the only one who understands all topics of possible interest to the ministries, so they have to run to him for advice if a situation involves multiple disparate issues. Leaving his office for just a few minutes to ask Sherlock's help leaves him worried that the bureaucrats will make a hash of things in his absence.

    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. It should be noted that Faith, for her part, did not want to be the leader, recognized the fact that this trope was about to hit them all in the face, and only stepped up to the plate because, in her opinion, someone had to and no one but her was listening to Buffy anymore.
  • 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, such as doing laundry and fixing the air conditioner. They also notice that without JD as a mediator, they don't get along very well, leading them to realizetheir relationship is in trouble.
  • 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.
    • Possibly inverted later on after they moved out of the city. Lucy and Ethel want Ricky and Fred to build a barbeque in their yard, but Ricky and Fred have stalled. Ethel mentions that the easiest way she found to light a fire under Fred was to start doing it herself, and somehow mess up so he'll jump in and fix it. Sure enough, Lucy and Ethel start planning how they'll fix the barbeque themselves (badly,) and Ricky and Fred jump right in to finish it.
  • 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 It's 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 daynote . 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 Jerk Ass 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 taking down, say, an organized crime group, is identifying targets within the 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.
  • Subverted in an episode of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation when Grissom has to suddenly leave and puts Warrick in charge of the night shift. Warrick immediately has to cope with various crises, including fellow CSIs who are miffed that they got passed over for the job. Despite having the job dropped in his lap, Warrick handles everything well. When Grissom comes back in the final sequence, he implies that he's trying to avoid this trope by determining which of the CSIs would be best-suited to replace him. The episode ends with Warrick sitting down with Grisson to recount everything that happened on the shift.
    • And when Grissom left, things did turn for the worse for a while because Catherine tried to do Grissom's job and continue handling all the paperwork and day-to-day minutiae that she did because Grissom wasn't interested or didn't like it. It causes at least one CSI to leave and blame Catherine for "ineffective leadership", at which point Nick tells her that's why she needs a "number two" as much as Grissom did.
  • Merlin is an inversion. Arthur obviously believes that a manservant should be a subservient Yes-Man, whereas Merlin is a Servile Snarker and makes it clear to Arthur he's No Hero to His Valet. However, as the series goes on, it becomes more and more clear that Arthur relies on Merlin calling What the Hell, Hero? on him when he goes too far, and in his own way, admits Merlin is wiser than him. In other words, he does his job so badly he's invaluable.
  • The West Wing: Once when CJ is sidelined by dental surgery, Josh thinks filling in for her at the daily press conference will be a breeze. It isn't.
    President Bartlet: You told the press I have a secret plan to fight inflation?
    Josh: No, I did not. Let me be absolutely clear I DID NOT do that. Except yes, I did that..
    President Bartlet: Josh, I'm a little confused.
    Josh: Sir, there was this idiotic round robin. It was sarcastic! There's no way they didn't know that. They were just mad at me for imposing discipline and calling them stupid!
    President Bartlet: Okay. Before we go on, C.J., if blood is gushing from the head wound you just received from a stampeding herd of bison, you'll do the press briefing.
  • The end of Season Two and the beginning of Season Three of Criminal Minds occurred like this. It involved Hotch's superior, Erin Strauss, using Prentiss as a "mole" in Season Two to see if Hotch really was doing a good job in charge of the BAU (as that season saw issues arise with three profilers). After poor tactical choices left two people dead under Hotch's watch in "Doubt", Strauss suspended Hotch for two weeks, and took over as Unit Chief for "In Name And Blood". The abbreviated team-minus the departed Gideon and Prentiss, who resigned rather than play the mole-had incredible difficulty without Hotch, and Strauss' poor handling of the case caused even more trouble. As Garcia blocked the records of Hotch's and Prentiss' reassignments from going through the system, Hotch and Prentiss came back to the case, which ended with Hotch making a brilliant tactical decision to apprehend the Unsub. Strauss then realized that, despite her dislike of Hotch, she does need him.
    • Strauss eventually becomes friendlier with Hotch when she realizes the job security goes two ways: she finally accepts he really isn't out to get promoted and replace her and is happy with his job, which was one of the reasons she was initially hostile toward him. This is finally solidified when he helps her get treatment for her alcoholism rather than using it to get rid of her.
  • In one episode of Newhart, Michael gets fired after making some demands and Dick gets promoted to producer of Vermont Today as a result. However, the job is harder than Dick expected, making him want Michael back as the producer, to the point where Dick's willing to take a pay cut so the station can meet Michael's demands.
    • The opposite occurs in another episode where Michael goes out of town for awhile and puts the secretary in charge of producing, expecting her to do badly. But she ends up being better at the job, and picking guests that Dick wants on the show. The station considers replacing Michael with her, but decides to let Dick decide which one he'd rather have as producer. While Dick feels bad about not letting Michael stay as producer, he ends up letting the secretary stay as producer. But she ends up accepting a job elsewhere.
  • In Orange Is The New Black Figueroa explains to Caputo that she has this, but he doesn't believe her. At the tail end of Season 2, he's finding out the hard way that she's right.

    Music 
  • 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.

    Myths & Religion 
  • 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.

    New Media 
  • Computer programmers often ironically refer to incomprehensible code created by bad programming practices as "job security," because if you're the only one who understands the system, they can't fire you.
    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.

    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.
    • Then there was the one time (late in the series) when perennial hecklers Statler and Waldorf figured they could do a better job of running the show. They gave it a shot and suddenly realized why The Muppet Show runs the way it does: when your cast is full of crazy, crazy is what you'll get. They told Kermit he can have it back and decided to go back to their box and just heckle.
  • In Thunderbirds, this may have been the intended trope of the episode Atlantic Inferno, where Scott is left in charge while father Jeff holidays. It turns into a Broken Aesop, though, since Scott's judgement is good until his father undermines him, causing Scott to start making mistakes.

    Theater 
  • 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 William 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 not that she was irreplaceable, but that anyone competent enough to replace her would have thousands of potential rivals, and so wouldn't dare to try and replace her for fear of losing the civil war.
    • Similarly, the Guild has found that it's able to maintain a lot of its integrity by making itself indispensable to the economies of large swathes of the world in general, and having their hands on things of value to powerful individuals in specific. It's the prerogative of any individual Guild member to leverage this security into benefiting them personally (since one of the major precepts of the Guild is that killing members or even entire companies at any level doesn't really harm the organisation as a whole).
  • 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.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the main reason Asrubael Vect has managed to remain the supreme overlord of Comorragh, a society consisting of pretty much entirely of backstabbing amoral bastards where Klingon Promotion os the norm, for over 6000 years is a) he's a Magnificent Bastard Chessmaster who has been able to out-gambit any of his rivals and b) most of the Archon lords are smart enough to realice that if Vect would die, the entire city would be thrown into a massive civil war as every Archon would attempt to seize the throne for himself. The fact that all his rivals hate eachother nearly as much as they hate him also helps.

    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 (though not too many), they're more likely to win.
    • In World of Warcraft, this is even more the case with tanks, as they tend to be more rare than both medics and damage dealers. Unfortunately, most tanks are aware of this, and many people in the role have taken to being Jerkasses that Rage Quit the instant something goes wrong (even if what went wrong was their fault), fully aware that they'll find another group within a couple minutes at the most.
    • Team Fortress 2: The medic is nearly essential to any team. If your medic leaves, prepare for a Difficulty Spike.
    • Likewise in Team Fortress 2, The Engineer is nigh-essential when playing Mann vs. Machine. Since the money-drop system makes it problematic if anyone changes their class the further into the round they go, if an Engineer leaves in one of the later robot-waves, the other players will have a tough time picking up the slack.
  • Portal 2 has Chell replacing GLaDOS with an idiotic A.I. named Wheatley (a literal Idiot Ball). 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.
  • Most organizations have a reason to hate Shepard but by the third game, most admit that they're invaluable to the resistance effort.

    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."
  • Baron Wulfenbach from Girl Genius would seem to be the quintessential definition of this trope: without him around and in charge, Europe would fall into the kind of continent-wide war and chaos that he originally stopped and it does pretty much just that the moment he's incapacitated. Only a madman could think it was a good idea to try and remove him. The problem is that pretty much all the important leaders (and many minor wildcards besides) are Sparks; they are mad, and thus rebellions against Wulfenbach erupt pretty much every other week.
  • Roy Greenhilt from The Order of the Stick is a heroic example; when he spends most of an arc being dead, 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. Comic #881 directly acknowledges this fact.
    Belkar: Do you have any idea how bloody useless we were while you were taking your dirt nap? The redhead can't lead anyone out of a wet paper bag, and I almost vomited myself to death because you weren't around to keep me from doing something stupid. And the other half was just as bad, from what I hear. Elan couldn't get past some subplot, Durkon sat on his thumbs, and I think the elf almost went nuts.

    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 wonders, though, what will happen now that Ofdensen left to become the new head of the Church of the Black Klok.
    • The other band members attempt to fire Murderface and Toki (the two members who don't write music), only to find that they can't get any proper inspiration without Murderface's constant negativity.
  • 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 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 another episode, Smithers goes on vacation and invokes this by deliberately choosing the most incompetent employee to fill in as Burns' assistant. Naturally, this is Homer Simpson. However, it backfires on him because Homer is so spectacularly incompetent that Burns is forced to learn to be self-sufficient, and when Smithers gets back Burns fires him.
  • 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.
  • In one episode of Ugly Americans Twayne gave his job as head of the DOI to Mark, within hours New York City was in flames, floating out to sea, and about to be nuked. Then Twayne fixed everything in less than a minute with a birthday cake.
  • The My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic Season 3 finale "Magical Mystery Cure" features an example that applies to pretty much the entire Mane 6. After a spell causes her friends to switch cutie marks, we see that each of them is incompetent at performing the others' jobs to the point of disaster. The weather patterns are chaotic due to Rarity being more concerned with aesthetics than practicality, Rainbow Dash's attempt to care for animals results in her nearly being cooked and eaten, Carousel Boutique is doomed because Applejack's idea of a dress looks like something a hobo would wear, the Apple Farm is going out of business because Pinkie Pie is lousy at manual labor, and the entire population of Ponyville is miserable because Fluttershy couldn't tell a joke to save her life that would cheer them townspeople up from the funk bought on by everything else mentioned.
  • In The Smurfs episode "Greedy Goes On Strike", Greedy hangs up his apron and decides to go on strike when the other Smurfs take his role as the village chef for granted. Throughout the course of the episode, other Smurfs try their hand at being the village chef, only to realize after several failures that they really need Greedy to do the cooking because he is the only one who is very skilled at cooking.
  • In King of the Hill, when Buck Strickland is hospitalized he leaves some hot shot business grad in charge, who in turn pisses off the truck drivers, thinking they're easily replaceable. This backfires as propane truck drivers need Hazmat licenses, which makes them irreplaceable.
  • In The Legend of Zelda episode "The Moblins Are Revolting," the Moblins attempt to kill Link and kidnap Zelda when Ganon is incapacitated. Most of the schemes backfire upon themselves without Link even having to do anything, Wile E. Coyote style.

    Real Life 
  • Louis XIV: "L'État, c'est moi." — courtesy of his reforms to centralize the power of the French state in his person.note  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.
    • Napoleon Bonaparte attempted to use this trope in January 1814 in his address to the French Senate, where he admitted that the disastrous outcomes of the campaigns in Russia (1812) and Germany (1813) had been due to his mistakes ("I am not afraid to admit that I made war too much; I made immense project wanting to assure the dominion of the world to France! I was mistaken, these projects were not commensurate to the force of numbers of our population.") But he went on to state he was the only one who could save France in that situation. Unfortunately it then turned out that he couldn't. Fearing that he would lose his throne if he was forced to make any territorial concessions at all, he refused several peace offers more favourable than the terms France eventually got. This led the Allies powers to bury for the rest of the war and ultimately the French military and political leaders to conclude that it was best that Napoleon abdicated.
  • After the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by a coup led by the Daimyos of Satsuma and Choshu, Emperor Meiji was "restored" to his position as true political leader of the country (a position it is highly debatable the Japanese Emperor ever held, even historically) as well as cultural/religious figurehead. For the first few decades of his reign, 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 army, the navy, the civil service, and the virtually powerless and constantly changing elected government. Meiji was a competent politician reasonably capable of handling this role as it gradually expanded. But under the less able (and possibly crazy) Emperor Taisho the role really became crucial and he struggled to check the military against the newly-ascendant Diet (his reign is called the "Taisho Democracy", as it was the first time the elected government held true power). His successor, Hirohito, was not cut out for the role — he might have had the natural capabilities but was easily manipulated by a few advisors because of his youth and eagerness to prove himself. The military came to dominate the government (by 1932 the Prime Minister was little more than a figurehead to be eliminated at the whims of the admirals), and though the army acted on its own in its Chinese adventures, the government gave them its support. By the time Japan entered World War II, any distinction between the military and the government had completely broken down.
  • 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 to secure support against communist expansion. [1], [2]
  • North Korea gets much of its basic nutrition from international aid but hasn't collapsed like a souffle yet because the surrounding nations do not want an exodus of refugees and a possible civil war between the military and secret police agencies. However, its sole major ally China does want North Korea to act more civilized and cease the frequent border incidents with South Korea. This is partly because China needs better relationships with developed markets for economic reasons, and partly because it wants fewer North Korean refugees trying to escape into its borders.
  • The same thing goes for Mexico, due to the war against drug cartels Mexico has to deal with, and even before that, due to the PRI party that ruled the country continuously for most of the 20th century: It's better for the U.S. government having to deal with the regime in turn, or helping Mexico with money and weapons to fight against the druglords than letting Mexico collapse under his own weight, and flooding the U.S. and Canada with millions of refugees escaping from a potential civil war. A fact (according to Wikileaks), some enemy countries like Syria already invoked out against the U.S. Ironically, the Syrians are plunged into a civil war, with millions of refugees escaping to Europe and neighboring countries.
  • 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. The former's role is very important (every Paramount Leader since Deng has held the position), while the latter, 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," (all its members were very old, as one had to have at least 40 years of CPC service to be admitted), in contrast to the Politburo Standing Committee, (by wonderful coincidence, the pun works in Chinese), 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.
    • 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. The party's fortunes stabilized under interim leader Bob Rae (who served a really long interim period: almost two years), and improved dramatically starting in May 2013 with the selection of the new permanent leader—Justin Trudeau, the young, charismatic eldest son of former PM and Liberal icon Pierre Elliott Trudeau.
    • History may yet view Stephen 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 until the Conservatives attained a majority government in early 2011, despite the significantly diverging viewpoints of many of his MPs. However, since then various scandals and fumbles on various issues have caused the Conservatives' poll numbers to sink to the point where they're now either tied with or behind the previously also-ran New Democratic Party; the Liberals' selection of Justin Trudeau doesn't help, either. What this will do to Harper's fortunes remains to be seen, as will what happens to the Conservative Party if he leaves, since it's unclear who would succeed him as leader. It should be noted that both Chretien and Harper 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 descended into a massive and complex civil war once he got too old and sick to control things, and has experienced chronic violence from splinter groups ever since.
  • Josip Broz Tito was a leading member of the Partisan movement that liberated Yugoslavia during WW2, he was Prime Minister from 1943 to 1953, and President from 1953 to his death in 1980. Soon after he died ethnic tension started building and the leaders of the individual 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 played in order to reclaim control of Florence from the Albizzi family. When they overthrew him, instead of trying to immediately reclaim power he simply went into exile for a decade and let the Albizzi rule Florence, knowing that they weren't competent to run the city's finances. As he had calculated, the Florentine economy collapsed from their mismanagement and the population became enraged. Seizing the opportunity, Cosimo returned to Florence and overthrew the Albizzi family with popular support, then organized a witch hunt of all those who had supported his removal.
  • 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 practice. 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:
    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, he 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 by nepotistic warlord standards. 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, as despite a decade of accusations of corruption and incompetence his government is still in power, because who could really do a better job with Afghanistan's many many problems? Or would want try? 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.
    • Related to this, cleaning staff (for offices) and garbage collectors (for cities in particular). Having the entire city's garbage collectors go on a week long strike really drives the point home when the garbage starts piling up within a day.
  • According to some management principles, this is actually a bad thing to encourage in an organization. If the leader is suddenly sidelined due to illness, death or other unforeseen issues, the organization can be left scrambling to fill the roles the leader played. Having a clearly delineated succession plan can help so the other people in the organziation know what to do in case the boss is suddenly out of commission.
    • The same thought process applies to forms of governance that emphasize the importance of peaceful transfer of power even when you dislike your successor. The effectiveness of this mindset varies, as this section showcases.
  • Vladimir Putin, who is genuinely popular despite growing discontent even among his supporters. It's just that any alternative would probably be much worse: almost all his political rivals see the 90s as the ideal, but the general population is dead set on not having them again.
  • The military goes out of their way to discourage and subvert this. Soldiers are taught from the very beginning that all leaders must consider themselves replaceable and ensure the unit can still function if they are killed or otherwise incapacitated.
  • In retrospect, America really should not have killed Saddam Hussein. His secular political platform and vision of national unity prevented the religious extremists from tearing the country apart in sectarian conflicts and then exporting the chaos everywhere… as unfortunately happened after the botched occupation. At the VERY least, the US should not have disbanded the Iraqi Army, which was pretty much the only integrated institution seen as a point of national pride.
    • Some have said this about Muammar Gaddafi, as well; however, unlike Saddam (who was just generically being nasty to his citizens), Gaddafi had already provoked his people into open revolt long before the West got involved with the Libyan resistance, and the rebels were pretty well entrenched in Benghazi. It's unlikely that the current situation would be any less violent without foreign intervention; at best, Gaddafi's regime would be weakened with occasional outbreaks of violence and unrest, and at worst Libya would have descended into a protracted full-scale civil war like Syria.
  • In some places, long-haul truck drivers have this. More than a few have drug or alcohol issues during their careers and many have various misdemeanors as well. But it's difficult for companies to find a capable long-haul driver, which explains companies overlooking most infractions and the high-wages plus pay per mile bonuses.
  • In engineering, this is sometimes known as the "bus factor," i.e. how many people can be hit by a bus without the team losing critical knowledge or skills. A low bus factor is a sign of a poorly-functioning team.
  • Insects and other invertebrates manage to play dozens of extremely vital roles in the environment, from pollinating, pest control, food sources and so on. We tend to find them annoying or insignificant, but if they were to disappear, life as we know it would cease to function.


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alternative title(s): Vetinari Paradox; Unappreciated Indispensible Man; The Worst Except For All The Others; Keystone Character; Unappreciated Keystone
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