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"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 their normal role, due to anything from being sick to going on vacation to being locked up in prison. The rest of the cast are 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 often 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.

There is a big overlap between this trope and the "Iron Law of Institutions" coined by Jonathan Schwartz note : someone following this trope may go as far as sabotaging the group's overall effectiveness to make it seem like they're needed more than they really are. This can be deadly to a group, especially once something finally removes the "needed" member from power permanently.

The oldest television version of this trope usually involved sitcoms and vacationing wives — see A Day in Her Apron — although that particular version is a Discredited Trope, since we've gradually come to realize that how good one is at housework has nothing to do with what's between one's legs.

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 nature (he's either an Anti-Villain or a very ruthless Anti-Hero, depending on whom you ask), 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.

Compare Ultimate Job Security, where someone does a truly bad job and/or is extremely unprofessional but doesn't get fired, and George Jetson Job Security, where a character returns mostly for continuity reasons. Contrast The Dilbert Principle, where leadership is intentionally given to incompetent group members to keep them from doing more damage elsewhere. Compare The Heart, the glue and morality of a team, and The Reliable One. Contrast Just Fine Without You, in which the person who left hoped for this trope but this trope was averted. Compare with Permanent Elected Official. Compare with Better the Devil You Know, when the current villain is kept around in fear of an even worse replacement. This trope can lead to An Aesop addressing why it's wrong for the Planet of Hats to practice Klingon Scientists Get No Respect. This may be one reason for a Short-Lived Leadership. See also Removing the Crucial Teammate.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the second season of Witch Hunter Robin, when Robin and Amon go to ground, the witch hunter organization is barely able to function. Robin, a powerful pyrokinetic, and Amon, the resident gun-toting badass, make most of the captures. The remaining members are focused mostly on intelligence and support, with little combat ability.
  • One Piece:
    • 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.
    • Garp is opposed morally to almost all his superiors, and openly undercuts them and causes havoc without even a pretense of restraint. Firing him was never an option though, as he's one of the strongest fighters in the Marines and an inspiring hero to the entire rank and file.
  • In Code Geass, Zero invokes a more situational version of this right before they enter the Battle of Narita. He puts the Black Knights in an extremely untenable situation (surrounded by enemies with seemingly no means of escape), then tells them that their only options are to give him complete trust and command, or shoot him dead and try to escape on their own. This continues on thoughout both seasons. When he's around, the Black Knights are a force to be reckoned with; when he's not, however, things go badly for them. In second season he actually starts pushing things to a more stable and complex command structure for the Black Knights, but doesn't get them all the way until the finale. While he's off having a Heroic BSoD over the apparent death of his sister, Schneizel steps in and basically completely tears apart the Black Knights by making them turn on Lelouch.
  • 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: The Original Series 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.
  • An episode of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman has Ryu the Owl quitting the team in shame after his mistake puts them all in jeopardy. Problem is, he was the only one who could flawlessly pilot the God Phoenix, and when Joe takes over for him he proves to be epically bad at it. Thankfully, Ryu overcomes his shame and rejoins the team at the end of the episode.
  • In Princess Knight, this trope is how the women of Silverland kick off their revolution. When the soldiers threaten to arrest them all, they point out that throwing them all in jail means that the men get to raise the children and cook and clean and do the laundry.
  • DARLING in the FRANXX: 002 and the high-performance Franxx she pilots are so vital to the defense of the plantations that APE has no choice but to deploy her when things get desperate, never mind that she keeps maiming her co-pilots. And she's completely aware of this, doing whatever she likes solely because she can and she knows how much they need her. Nana resorts to repeatedly throwing the book at her in an attempt to stop her running roughshod over the entire chain of command, and she undermines even that at the first opportunity.
  • In Hunter × Hunter, the Chimera Ants take over the Palace of East Gorteau. They kill the country's dictator shortly after arriving, with Pitou keeping his corpse animated and fresh with her Nen to appear on television and make announcements; however, his Secretary of State, Bizeff, was the one actually running the country and is basically allowed to keep doing so while the Ants prepare to eat everybody.

    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. Also, the old office holders were unwilling to take their old jobs back.
  • 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, and/or 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 that his intended heirs are actually worthy of the job.
  • The DCU:
    • 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.
    • Amanda Waller's entire record is peppered with this. She's been sent to jail, retired, fired with extreme prejudice and more... and at the end of the day, she'll be sent back to Belle Reve to once again lead the Suicide Squad because nobody else can get the results she can with what she's handed.
    • In Secret Six, any time Scandal gets removed from leadership, the team tends to fall apart.
    • Discussed by Augustus Caesar in The Sandman (1989) #30:
      "If I gave the word tonight, you would disappear and no one would even dare to mention that you had ever existed. And no one would dare to complain. Because the alternative to me is chaos."
  • Marvel Universe:

    Comic Strips 
  • Calvin and Hobbes: Rosalyn is able to get copious advances on her fees from Calvin's parents, since no other babysitter in town will take a job watching him.
    Calvin's dad: Hi Rosalyn! You don't need to worry this time. Calvin will be on his best behavior tonight.
    Rosalyn: Even so, I'd like an advance.
    Calvin's dad: An advance? But...but...
    Calvin's mom: Dear, may I speak with you a moment?
    Calvin's dad: But we gave her an advance on tonight when she left last time!
    Calvin's mom: I don't care. Just pay what it takes us to get out of here!

    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.
    • 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 Project 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 Embers (Vathara) 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.
  • Nightmarishly inverted for Mayor Mare in the Triptych Continuum. Goosed! takes place three weeks before Ponyville's election day: Day & Night Court representatives, plus the local mayorality. The deadline to file for running against her was two weeks earlier — and no one filed. Between the constant need for filling out disaster relief forms and the hopelessness inherent in any executive attempt to keep the chaos down, nopony wants the job anymore, and she can't leave it because then there would be nopony trying at all.
    • Also somewhat deconstructed with Celestia and Princess Luna. They are the only two entities (except the imprisoned Discord) who can interface with SUN and MOON. Without them, every living thing on the planet would die in a matter of days. The deconstruction is essentially twofold: First, the other nations are just as happy as you'd think about the fact that all their lives rest on the Princesses of Equestria, which leads to more than a little political tension. Second, since everyone knows that all their lives rest on Celestia and Princess Luna, any hint that something might be going wrong for one of the two is an immediate cause for panic. The saying is that every time Celestia sneezes, Protocera's commodities market catches the flu.
  • 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 scatterbrained.
    • And then there's the fact that he's the Patron Saint of Coffee, which the team collectively ingests in large quantities.
  • In The Land of What Might-Have-Been, it's observed that the Radiant Empress (an insane alternate version of Elphaba) has established the most negative version of this. In her position as ruler of Unbridled Radiance, the Empress is so determined to make herself indispensable to her empire that it's basically impossible for anyone else to do the tasks asked of her, even when she could theoretically delegate some of her responsibility to her more skilled followers.
  • In the Street Sharks fanfiction Blades, it's mentioned that Dr. Paradigm considers Lena so valuable that he makes it clear to the Seaviates that they are not to harm her.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug fanfic to lose someone, Lila discovers the hard way how much the class actually depends on Marinette when she convinces them to rip apart Marinette's sketchbook in retaliation for Mari "bullying" her, and Marinette points out that the sketchbook was the one where she held all of the requests they begged her to do that would make them and the class look good (clothing, banner, and webpage designs) and her contact information for several trips that they were all looking forward to taking but which Marinette will have to cancel now. Marinette also absolutely refuses to do any more requests unless she's paid the top dollar she actually deserves for her high quality and they very sincerely stop treating her like they were doing from the very moment they started to heed Lila's lies.
  • Scarlet Lady has Chloe Bourgeois, who inadvertently intercepts the power-bestowing gift meant for The Chosen One to become the titular superhero. Absolutely no one who actually met her likes Scarlet Lady, from civilians to her fellow heroes, due to her immense vanity, pettiness, and incompetence. But since she's the only one with the ability to purify Akuma and undo any of the damage caused by fighting them and she's quite popular with the vast majority of Paris, they're stuck with her until they can expose her true character.
  • This is deconstructed in Level Up (MHA), because Quirks that can heal people are so rare, Recovery Girl has remained working well into old age because she is irreplaceable. When Izuku shows up with the ability to create healing food, she exclaims that she can retire and begins mentoring him to replace her.
  • Chasing Dragons: At one point, Baelish notes that the Kindly Man (who is strongly implied to be Varys) has positioned himself just right in Myr's criminal underworld — he has enough power to be a valuable source of information and aid to both the royal government and other criminals, but not enough that either side views him as a threat that needs to be eliminated.
  • Distance Wakes The Heart Up: As the week goes on, the family slowly realizes how much Mirabel contributes to their everyday lives.
    • Dolores tries to keep Antonio's spirits up and struggles with it, Mirabel having always been the Cool Big Sis for him. She also finds the absence of the casual noises Mirabel makes rather distracting, especially since most of the noises are positive in nature (humming, dancing, the occasional quip, etc.).
    • Mirabel would usually be the one to get Luisa before she overworks herself. With Mirabel gone, she ends up missing lunch and is already on the verge of a nervous breakdown, convinced that she was somehow to blame for Mirabel leaving.
    • The entire family's rhythm has been thrown off so much, their first breakfast without Mirabel ends up becoming an utter mess.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 (as in 400%) 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.
  • In Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Master can humiliate the otherwise unchallenged queen of Bartertown, Auntie Entity, because not only does he have the monstrously powerful hulking Blaster to defend him, but because Bartertown depends on Master's scientific and engineering skills to create, bottle, and utilize methane to provide itself with power; at the film's end, with Master having escaped, Bartertown's power station promptly explodes because nobody else knows how to keep it running.
  • Invoked in Rogue One: because Galen Erso realizes the Empire can finish the Death Star without him, but the Empire does not, he acts like he's an irreplaceable genius so he can put in secret weaknesses and nobody will question them. It works, although sadly he doesn't live to see it destroyed.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (2020): This is the entire reason the government puts up with Dr. Robotnik and continues to hire him for such things as capturing Sonic. Yes, he's a rude, obnoxious, sociopathic asshole, but he's also a legitimate genius and just that good at what he does.

  • 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!
  • A downside is pointed out in the saying "Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted." On the other hand, most of the characters associated with this trope don't have anywhere to be promoted to.

  • Animorphs: When Mr. Responsible Jake has to leave for a week, his cousin 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, rescued by crashing a jet into the roof of a (hollow) building then following the flaming wreck as birds, and whipping an unbelievably fast alien with a cobra.
  • 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 collapsed from its own inability to deal with the crisis that was their excuse to seize power in the first place. Many books set in Ankh-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. By the time of Feet of Clay, Vimes muses that at this point, the only people who would kill Vetinari are either those who don't care if the city collapses or someone who would be on top of the pile in the event of such a collapse; however, the only two people in that second category are Vimes himself and Carrot, neither of whom would actually do that. 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.
      • It helps that Captain Carrot is the one person in the city (bar possibly Commander Vimes, who's very firmly The Fettered for several excellent reasons) who could depose Vetinari, owing to his supernatural charisma and the Open Secret that he's the long-lost heir to throne, and run the city competently afterwards - but he doesn't want to. Specifically, he doesn't want to be King because he knows that people would obey him because it's him asking rather than because it's the right thing to do; because he prefers being a Watchman; because Commander Vimes (whom he deeply respects) hates Kings on principle; and because he is one of the very few people who actually genuinely likes Vetinari. Indeed, the two of them have a very good understanding after the end of Men at Arms (in which Carrot tacitly explains a) that he doesn't want the throne, b) why he doesn't want it, and c) that he's destroyed the evidence), and tend to conspire to reward and elevate Vimes for their own purposes (Vimes quickly figures it out, including Carrot's involvement, but can't do anything about it).
    • Vetinari's also 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's 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's rise at Unseen University. Moist von Lipwig is another protégé of Vetinari. 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 eventually 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 to be a good sport in regards to assassination attempts on himself, as although Vimes is far more concerned with staying alive than with the Guild's reputation as "being cool", he enjoys merely dishing out humiliating punishments to would-be assassins with the air of a common street tough finally getting one over on a snooty aristocratic killer.
      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 (though as time goes on, he's revealed to actually be a Genius Ditz and to employ a great deal of Obfuscating Stupidity — he is listening, he just generally pretends he isn't) 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 couch potato wizards to kill (one attempted assassin went deaf for two weeks because Ridcully ambushed him instead, bashed his head against the door, and gave him one mother of a loud scolding) — 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 this 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. It's hinted in Unseen Academicals that Ridcully is discreetly mentoring him to ensure that he'll be the next Archchancellor.
    • 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, maintain 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 indispensable: 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 Bursar at Unseen University might be one. Rather than achieving and holding his position the traditional way via magical assassination, he got it by doing the necessary work that nobody else wants to do, and keeps it for the same reason. He was eventually relieved of his duties when his madness progressed to the point that he couldn't do accounting anymore, but by that point he was so ingrained in the position that they let him keep it officially while Ponder does the actual work.
    • Granny Weatherwax became this in respect to being one of the Disc's first lines of supernatural defence — the very instant she dies, the elves, who've been locked away for a decade or so (and after what happened last time, wouldn't try anything if she was around), start causing serious trouble. It also leaves witches without the leader none of them would ever admit to having. However, Granny Weatherwax being no fool, she'd deconstructed this by having already prepared her successor, Tiffany Aching, serving as a Stealth Mentor to the most talented and, frankly, sensible (most of the time) witch of her generation, and leaves in no doubt whom she intends to take over her steading, laying it out in her will. It's also subverted in another way; Granny's greatest ability is that she teaches others how to make themselves better and that they should do the same to others in turn, so when the elves come again they're facing entire armies of people who can stand up to them.
  • 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 abdicates the Office at the end of Being a Green Mother, it defaults to the most evil man in the world, who proves not only much less pleasant, but far less competent, so in For Love of Evil 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, or 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 the same series, Sadi, Chief Eunuch of Salmissra's court. Towards the end of the first book of the second series, he gets banished from the court for violating most of the rules she had laid down to keep corruption in her Decadent Court to within reasonable limits, and he would later admit that he was guilty as charged. Two years later he got reinstated because Salmissra ended up realizing that none of the other eunuchs in her court were capable of doing his job.
  • 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 playing 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 Trilogy. 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.
  • Jeeves and Wooster: 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 irreplaceable 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.
    • Deconstructed in The Arctic Incident; when outside forces actually want the L.E.P. to crumble, he's the first person they go after. They hijack his computer systems, and easily bring down most the L.E.P.'s defenses. Ordinarily, this wouldn't be possible, but one of the villains is just as clever as he is and a lot more underhanded. She frames him for the sabotage and locks him in his office, so the L.E.P. have to waste time and energy trying to break in and stop his "coup" while holding off the bad guys battering their doors down.
  • 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 — including handling a unknowing amount of quiet debt relief on the side, both on and off the books. Most treasurers would simply collect the taxes, suggest budgets and call it all good when they get into the black, but Littlefinger took those taxes and heavily invested, speculated and otherwise multiplied (or, you know, bubbled) them, doubling and redoubling the incomes until the royal treasury collects nearly ten times the annual revenue of just over a decade before. Yet, somehow, it's still not quite in the black for all this economic activity. All this while, he's appointed his own people into various subordinate positions and offices, nearly all of them overlooked non-nobles, fellow petty nobles or outright foreigners with great potential merit who, henceforth, just so happen to owe their livelihoods to him, even though it's usually the Crown officially hiring them. His job is safe on two counts: 1) he's so damned good at it that removing him would be almost unthinkable and 2) he himself is a noble of almost no renown — replacing him would inevitably mean having to hire a more active, traditional threat. Littlefinger's no knight himself and he has virtually no sworn swords to speak of (certainly not a full battalion of them; a handful of hedge knights and the odd mercenary aren't, on paper, numbers to fear), his lands are tiny, out-of-the-way and infamously poor (fishing, goats and sheep), and his house has almost no ties with or influence on the bulk of the nobility even inside his native region of the Vale, because it's such a young house. If such a successful Master of Coin also commanded great, well-equipped armies with longstanding blood and marriage ties to other important families capable of raising their own armies in turn, they would be an enormously obvious threat to everybody; but Littlefinger has no such armies or ties and is willing to work with just about anybody to get whatever he wants, 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. Tyrion figures out this whole system when he briefly holds the office (it's why we know it, in fact); but Littlefinger has him removed from office in spectacular fashion before he can do anything about it. Tyrion also notes that the numbers don't quite add up, and the crown has way more debt than it should given all this new income; he suspects that Littlefinger was robbing the Crown blind, but there are several clues that the whole thing is actually a Ponzi scheme on a continental scale.
    • On the same council as Littlefinger is Lord Varys, the kingdom's Master of Whispers. A foreigner and a eunuch hired by the hated Mad King Aerys Targaryen to spy on his rivals, Varys is despised by most and trusted by none. However, his skill at managing his spy network is so unmatched that he keeps his position after Aerys is overthrown, and maintains it for the next three kings to follow. Unlike Littlefinger, who manages to keep his true intentions a secret, basically everyone in the kingdom assumes that Varys is up to something; they just don't know what it is and find him too indispensable to remove. When he does leave his position, it is of his own accord. His successor is far less capable and Varys's spy network still answers to him, allowing him to put his larger plans into operation.
  • Shogun: The Taiko, 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' extensive political scheming.
  • 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. The only reason this was allowed to happen is that he has no ambition of any kind; they pay him enough to maintain his house and membership in the club where he spends most of his time, and that's all he wants.
  • In the Star Trek novel To Reign In Hell: The Exile of Khan Noonien Singh, Khan's long reign as the leader of the Botany Bay survivors is attributed to the fact that all the other Augments were such arrogant assholes that few of them could garner enough followers to mount a successful uprising.
  • The Witch of Knightcharm: Lauren Taverron, the fourth-ranked student at an evil Wizarding School, sets herself up as this. Nobody likes her and three students ranked above her all want to kill her, but Lauren manages to avoid making some screw-ups that the others make, and thus she becomes the only one with credability of the four of them. The others therefore need her to take care of various pieces of business, like making reports to the 'Board,' and can't kill or dispose of her.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • The third and sixth season premieres 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 deprive her of the leadership but throw her out of her own house, they end up making Faith the leader — and she promptly leads them into a trap. Many fans (as well as some of the survivors In-Universe) 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 do it and she was the only one who was listening to Buffy anymore.
  • In the third series of Blackadder, tired of being insulted by the Prince, Blackadder leaves. He's only gone for about an hour before returning to find Baldrick and Prince George hiding under the table, convinced that an assassination is imminent, a situation that never would have happened without Blackadder there.
  • Torchwood sans Captain Jack is in a similar state in the premiere of the second season.
  • Several times on the US version of Kitchen Nightmares, Gordon 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 was the one who performed 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 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 also get on each other's nerves without him around as a buffer.
  • 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 (although he broke said air conditioner too, to use fixing it as an excuse to stick around). They also notice that without JD as a mediator, they don't get along very well, leading them to realize their 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 after they move out of the city. Lucy and Ethel want Ricky and Fred to build a barbecue in their yard, but Ricky and Fred have stalled. Ethel mentions that the easiest way she has found to light a fire under Fred is to start doing something 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 barbecue themselves (badly), and Ricky and Fred jump right in to finish it.
  • Any time Col. Blake or Col. Potter left the 4077th M*A*S*H, everything went to pieces, at least as far and Hawkeye and Trapper/B.J. (more often than not, Burns or Winchester was left in charge) were concerned. Less comically, Radar's departure in Season 8 leaves the camp suffering; Klinger does eventually figure out the filing system and supply deals, and even gets promoted to Sergeant, 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 day.note  They promptly fire him and suffer no ill effects for doing so.
    • Subverted again in "Charlie Work". The episode shows all the things Charlie does to trick the health inspector into think Paddy's Pub is up to code and give them a high grade. However, because the bar always passes, the gang doesn't think much of Charlie's hard work and are more concerned about their latest scam, which Charlie had to cover up to ensure a passing grade.
  • 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 mounted a coup to depose him, sent him into exile as a peacekeeper prisoner for a couple of centuries, and generally smeared his name with mud. He invites him to come back and take the throne by the end of the series, because he realizes that, Jerkass though he is, Rygel is actually a competent and ideal ruler for a race of Hynerians.
    • Subverted in the comic that follows the miniseries. Bishan invites Scorpius to serve as his advisor, while using Rygel's last surviving wife to lure him back to Hyneria. In the end, Rygel shows himself a competent leader and earns the devotion of his wife, his generals, and his people by showing that he's not that much of a jerkass anymore.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys episode "Reunions" has Zeus raise Hercules to godhood to protect him from the other Olympians. Hercules turns his back on him until Hera removes Zeus from power. Turns out that, as bad as Zeus is, without him to impose 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 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 Grissom to recount everything that happened on the shift. And when Grissom leaves, things do take a turn for the worse for a while, because Catherine tries to both do Grissom's job and continue handling all the paperwork and day-to-day minutiae that she always 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 that it makes him invaluable.
    • A more straightforward version arguably also applies to Arthur's father Uther for the first three seasons; he's ruthless in his hatred of magic, but when magic wasn't involved, Uther was a good enough king that Merlin recognised that letting any of the villains kill him would leave Camelot in a vulnerable position before Arthur was truly ready to take the throne himself.
  • During Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, a key issue faced by Commander/Captain Benjamin Sisko was his unexpected role as the Emissary for the Bajoran prophets, which made him a Christ-like figure for the Bajoran religion, with various Bajorans asking for his blessing at religious ceremonies. For a while, Sisko was uncomfortable with the expectations of this role, and when long-lost Bajoran poet Akoram Laan suddenly appeared in the present claiming that he was the Emissary ("Accession"), Sisko was willing to step down. However, when Akoram tried to restore an old Bajoran caste system that meant people could only take certain jobs and hold certain positions in society- such as Major Kira Nerys, Sisko's second-in-command, being "required" to become an artist despite her lack of talent, or a Bajoran Vedek being ordered to resign as his caste required him to work with the dead- Sisko challenged Akoram's claim, which led to the two confronting the Prophets themselves to confirm that Sisko was the true Emissary and Akoram had just been sent forward in time to teach him this.
  • 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's 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.
  • Newhart:
    • In one episode, 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 (especially with that crew), 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 a while and puts the secretary in charge of producing, expecting her to do badly. But she ends up being better at the job, and picks 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.
  • Averted with UNIT in Doctor Who. While the Doctor has Ultimate Job Security (and technically never retired), they manage to do pretty well without him, as The Brigadier got Crazy-Prepared and made sure that a) UNIT had what it needed to manage on its own and b) that they had a means of contacting him should the worst arise. He shows the Doctor their specially-developed anti-Dalek bullets and adds:
    Lethbridge-Stewart: We've also got high-explosive rounds for Yeti's and very efficient armour-piercing rounds for robots. And we've even got gold-tipped bullets for you know what.
    • As it turns out, they also have silver bullets, which ends up being a Chekhov's Gun (haha) when they go up against the Monster of the Week.
    • UNIT itself was not immune to this come "Resolution" (the New Year's Special at the beginning of the Jodie Whittaker era) To the Doctor's surprise, some random bean-counters noticed that there had not been any alien invasions recently (that they knew of), determined UNIT to be a waste of money, and immediately ordered it to be disbanded.
    • The spin-off audio "Time in Office" revealed that Borusa attempted to invoke this by creating a complex and twisted political system that was totally dependent on the idea that he would rule Gallifrey forever. After Borusa is lost during the Game of Rassilon, the Time Lords have to appoint the Doctor as Lord President in his place as the only one with the necessary strength of will to undo Borusa’s current system without Gallifrey collapsing on itself in the process.
  • The Brittas Empire: In the episode "Laura's Leaving", Laura heads off for a job interview. Despite everyone (except Helen) thinking that they will do fine without her, by the time she gets back, a group of Pentecostals has been electrocuted, a man named Mr. Jackson has gone on a rampage in the reception with a gun over an issue with the coffee machine, Brittas is trying to fire Carole, and the rest of the staff are about to strike against him.

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

    Mythology and 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 use 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 of Schlock Mercenary remarks on a related matter when the crew discovers a technologically ancient computer whose data has been coded to become inaccessible in the event of an upgrade:
      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, when 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. There was 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.

  • In the 2011 NFL season, Colts quarterback Peyton Manning sat out for the entire season as he underwent four neck surgeries. The Colts' three backup QBs, Kerry Collins (who came out of retirement), Curtis Painter, and Dan Orlovsky, as well as the coaching staff (led by Jim Caldwell), tried, and failed, to run the same offense that Manning ran, and the end result, combined with a very hard schedule (AFC North and NFC South), was a disastrous 2-14 season, as well as jokes and even serious discussions that Manning was the real NFL MVP that year without playing a game. At the end of the season, nearly the entire coaching staff and front office (which included Caldwell, as well as Bill and Chris Polian) were fired from the Colts, and Manning was released in March 2012. On the bright side, they were able to draft Andrew Luck, who was called the "greatest QB prospect since Manning".
    • And then the Colts fell into this again with Andrew Luck himself in relation to Peyton Manning. While Luck certainly lived up to his billing as one of the best QB prospects in a long time, the Colts seemingly forgot the fact that it didn't mean that he shared the same exact skillset as Peyton Manning. In this case, he lacked Manning's quick release. Due to Manning's often godlike release timing, on top of having an All-Pro Center, the Colts never had to put much work into cultivating their Offensive Line as the ball would get thrown well before someone on the Defense could so much as breathe on him. While Luck is certainly more mobile than Manning and could avoid some pressure, he often was forced into harm's way much more often than his predecessor due to the haphazard building of said Offensive Line and this led to repeated injuries. So many, in fact, that Luck, coming off arguably his best year as an NFL QB, abruptly retired in the middle of the 2019 Preseason, having grown tired of needing to repeatedly rehab injuries.
    • Subverted with the 2015 Denver Broncos, who finished 5-2 while Manning was recovering from a foot injury. The Broncos would go on to win Super Bowl 50, with Manning having one of his worst performances in the game (his offense would gain the fewest total yards for a Super Bowl champion).
  • Zig-zagged with Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who missed a major part of the season in 2013 and 2017 due to collarbone injuries. While the 2017 season was a disaster, the Packers managed to save their 2013 season by bringing back their former backup quarterback Matt Flynn, who, while he was no Rodgers, did well enough to keep Green Bay in the playoff picture until Rodgers came back in the final game of the regular season. That earlier situation suggested that at least part of the problem wasn't that the offense couldn't run without Rodgers, but rather the fact that the team didn't have a reasonably capable backup behind him. (This discussion has been reignited in the wake of questions regarding Rodgers' future that came up in 2020 and 2021.)
  • Zig-zagged with Tom Brady, who was sidelined in the 2008 season after blowing out his knee in the first game of the season, and in 2016, when he was suspended for the first four games for his alleged role in the Deflategate scandal. In the 2008 season, backup Matt Cassel, who hasn't started a game since high school, guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record (a five game drop from 16-0 in 2007), but the Patriots (and the AFC East) that year played two of the worst divisions ever in NFL history, the AFC West and NFC West, where neither division had 10-win teams. The Pats were only 2-4 against playoff teams, and missed the playoffs after losing tiebreakers to the eventual division champions, the Miami Dolphins, and the Baltimore Ravens. In 2016, the Pats finished 3-1 during Brady's absence. The Pats' continued success without Brady led to the perception that Brady is a "system quarterback", and that literally any QB can succeed with the Pats. Finally played straight in the 2020 season, the Patriots' first season after Brady left the team to sign with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers; with three quarterbacks helming the Patriots offense, including former Panthers QB Cam Newton, the Patriots finished 7-9, their first losing season since 2000. Brady, meanwhile, would help guide the Bucs to an 11-5 record, and would go on to win Super Bowl LV, the first Super Bowl to be hosted in their home stadium, and his seventh overall.
  • Jason Hanson served as the Detroit Lions' kicker for 20 seasons, during that time he was regarded as one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL and pretty much the only person the Lions could reliably count on. After Hanson retired after the 2012 season, the Lions signed veteran David Akers to take his place, but he only lasted one season before retiring as well. Without a kicker yet again and with no veterans in the free agent pool to sign, the Lions ultimately went with rookie Nate Freese. Freese's tenure as kicker was an abject disaster, with him missing multiple easy (at least by NFL standards) field goals in an often cartoonish fashion. The Lions subsequently cut him after Week 3 and signed free agent Alex Henery, who was the Philadelphia Eagles' kicker for three solid but unremarkable seasons. Henery proved to be marginally better than Freese, and after he biffed three field goals (including a potential game winner) against the Buffalo Bills, he was cut as well. The kicking struggles only ended when by a pure spell of dumb luck, Matt Prater (then regarded as the best kicker in the league) was cut by the Denver Broncos due to them growing tired of his constant drinking. The Lions picked him up on the rebound and he served as their starting kicker through the 2020 season. This humorous video showcases how much Lions fans (and likely the team themselves) missed Jason Hanson during the first half of the 2014 season.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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 inevitable civil war. Many of the potential replacements could take the throne right now, but keeping said throne is another matter. (Of course, things would be different if one of them got control of the Imperial Manse, which carries with it the most powerful weapon in Creation, but getting in is relatively as deadly as the civil war option.) For the time being, with her gone, they appointed a hapless figurehead and are building up forces and alliances.
    • 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.
  • The Syndicate, the literal money wizards in the Technocracy in Mage: The Ascension fit the bill perfectly. They stick around and remain powerful and influential, despite being the most straightforwardly-villainous Technocracy faction, despised by their peers, and often crippled by infighting brought on by their own hyper-capitalist ideology. At the end of the day, they might not be very good at their jobs, but no one else in the Technocracy wants to do what they do, and the Technocracy cannot function without what they do: marketing, budgeting, and all the other little minutiae of running a massive N.G.O. Superpower. Even enlightened engineers and scientists are still engineers and scientists, and none of them want to sully their hands with the dark arts of marketing any more than they enjoy having to associate with the bloodsucking fiends who practice them!
  • In the Planescape setting, it was implied in The Factols' Manifesto that this is why Factol Karan is leader of the Xaositects, he's the only one who wants the job. Leading a group that embraces Chaos is a difficult headache, and while Karan isn't always the leader (he is when he feels like it, which is most of the time) nobody ever challenges him for the role when he is, because nobody else wants it.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, the main reason Asdrubael Vect has managed to remain the supreme overlord of Commorragh, a society consisting of pretty much entirely of backstabbing amoral bastards where Klingon Promotion is 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 realize 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 each other nearly as much as they hate him also helps.
    • Similarly, the only reason that the entirety of the Adeptus Mechanicus hasn't been declared heretical for worshipping the Machine god is that they're the only ones who can fix the Imperium's techno-toys when they break. Well, that plus the fact that they're nominally worshipping the Emperor in his guise as the Omnissiah. They're also officially a separate empire with their own massive military (including all of humanity's Humongous Mecha); it's not at all clear that the greater Imperium is even capable of removing them. This has been true as far back as the original alliance; at the time the Emperor was aggressively destroying all religion and forcing every human government into his direct control, but they wouldn't join his nascent Imperium willingly if he did the same in their case and two were so evenly matched that direct conflict would have destroyed both sides and rendered the advantages of gaining their support moot.

  • 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.

    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. As SkyminSlash puts it: "When you're the only healer choice, your team will need you no matter how much they hate you".
      • Likewise in TF2, 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.
  • In Assassin's Creed Syndicate, the Templars have invoked this, worming their way deeply into London's economy and infrastructure so that taking out any one of them would collapse the entire city. Unfortunately for them, Jacob Frye doesn't fully realize that and is happy to crash through their Order like a bull in a china shop. Fortunately for London, his sister Evie is equally good at cleaning up the mess left behind.
  • Genshin Impact: Ganyu has been a secretary of Liyue for over 2000 years. Even three normal-human secretaries can't cope with all the work Ganyu does by herself on a daily basis.
  • The Hitman series has Diana, seemingly the only ICA employee who's both fearless enough to (H)andle the local sociopath and sensible enough not to try enslaving him (like all his previous, dead, bosses did). Aside from that, her industry punishes any perceived betrayals with death, so there is a significant chance that if Diana goes, the ICA's best assassin will also go, just so he doesn't have to kill her. When the latter happened in Absolution, 47 was noticeably reluctant to assassinate Diana even before he learned that she had a very good reason for defecting.
  • Megadimension Neptunia VII bases its second act around this. After losing a very public fight, the CPUs are dethroned, Gold Third is instated in their place, and a Cosmic Retcon applies years of their leadership in a few days. The world goes to hell in a handbasket as Gold Third had no interest in ruling in the first place and the whole incident was incited by a third party. S-Sha is keeping Leanbox running solely for her own ends and her short-sighted policies are causing looming problems. K-Sha abandoned her post, letting a rogue PMC seize control of the Basilicom and take Lastation on the warpath. C-Sha tried to guide Lowee from the shadows, but this just let a corrupt politician institute a draconian class system that completely chokes social mobility and dissent. Only Planeptune continues to function more or less normally, since B-Sha and Neptune aren't that different to begin with, and B-Sha was willing to let Histoire maintain administrative control, but B-sha's inability to deal with monster attacks means the city is incredibly vulnerable to the Delusional Monster plague.
  • 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.
  • Touhou Project has Komachi Onozuka, a shinigami whose job it is to ferry souls across the River Sanzu... when she can be bothered. She's lazy, shows no particular respect for her seniors, and slacks on her job so much it escalated a normal cyclic phenomenon into a full-blown Incident. However, when she does bother to do her job, she's hypercompetent to the point that any amount of trouble with her work ethic is worth keeping her around.
  • Bendy and the Ink Machine: In the tie-in novel, Bendy and The Lost Ones, this is revealed to be the case with Thomas Connor, the GENT Corp. worker who designed the titular Ink Machine. He's fired towards the end of the previous book for trying to take the machine he built back from Joey Drew, but The Lost Ones reveals that the machine broke almost immediately after he stopped working there, so Joey had to rehire him and his partner, Allison Pendle, to get him to fix it again.

  • 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.
  • Invoked in R. K. Milholland's Midnight Macabre. Local TV station secretary Gladys came up with a bizarre, completely incomprehensible filing system for the express purpose of making herself 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.
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • Roy Greenhilt 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.
    • In the Dénouement of the prequel story How the Paladin Got His Scar, Shojo reveals the secret of the true purpose behind the Sapphire Guard to O-Chul, who originally wanted to see it disbanded for nearly starting an avoidable war in the name of zealotry. Upon realising that they were responsible for keeping the Snarl contained by way of Soon Kim's Gate, O-Chul changed tack and decided to join the Guard as an Internal Reformist instead, knowing that, whatever the sins of the Guard themselves, their duty was much too important to be left unfulfilled.
  • In Homestuck, Vriska is killed in retaliation for her being an egotistical serial killer, but it later turns out that she was so important to the troll team that the only way to fix the timeline after almost everyone else died was to bring her back to life.

    Web Original 
  • Hitler Rants: Alfred Jodl serves as the Commander Contrarian to Adolf Hitler during his planning sessions. Since it's Hitler we're talking about, this role is utterly useless as Hitler will angrily override Jodl's objections and proceed with the plan. Despite that, Hitler's attempts to replace Jodl with an obedient Yes-Man always end in total disaster with the Third Reich being on the verge of collapse. Whether it's the Soviet forces steamrolling Berlin or Jodl mustering up a rebellion too large for Hitler to stop, it always ends with Hitler reinstating Jodl back to his old position.
  • Not Always Working features stories of this.
    • This former salesperson at a radio station believes this to be the case, until her former boss says that the new guy did replace her position and she wasn't irreplaceable.
    • This business graduate gets ownership of a bakery by his parents as a gift. He wants to increase productivity by slashing all the employees' salaries by 10% and that of the head baker by 50%, and tells the head baker to take the pay-cut or leave. Two days later, he realized that he fired the one guy that knew all the recipes and dealt with half of their regular clientele. He ended up having to re-hire the guy at double his original salary.
    • This new supervisor at an aerospace company fired a woman that he assumed to be nothing but a secretary, only for his employees to call him a fucking moron for having fired the only person in the entire company to have the applied mathematics skills to let the company do their work... then the supervisor realizes that getting a person with a PhD in applied mathematics isn't nearly as easy as he assumed to be — especially since he figured to replace her with two unpaid internships, the woman in question had since taken a better-paying job at a competitor, and the project ended up stalled for several months. And when the CEO learned about what the supervisor had done, verbally told the supervisor off before firing him from his position.
    • This manager ended up invoking this on themselves. They gave a massive workload to an employee as a bullying tactic, before firing the employee for not giving in. Then, during the ensuing wrongful termination lawsuit, said manager realizes that by a) making one single employee do all the difficult tasks, and then b)firing said employee, nobody else knew how to finish a complex project, and the former employee absolutely refuses to help and calls the manager out for their temerity.
      "It's called karma, you psychopathic b***, and there's a whole lot more of it coming your way."

    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 general, it's suggested that the main reason he holds power is that no other Predacon is remotely equipped for the job.
  • The episode "Sokka's Master" of Avatar: The Last Airbender has Sokka leave the gang for a few days in order to gain weapons training, since he is convinced that he is the most useless member of the team. While he's gone, the rest of the group fails to think of anything to do while waiting for him to return, due to Sokka being the team's strategist and the one who planned even their basic activities. Katara's poor attempts at comedy in place of her comic relief brother doesn't help matters.
  • 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 leads 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 decide to just start looting at will. The problem is eventually solved when Cartman takes over for a while. Well... depending on one's definition of "solved," anyway.
  • Futurama:
    • The 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.
    • Scruffy the Janitor invokes this during his performance review.
      Scruffy: My job? Toilets and boilers, boilers and toilets. Plus that one boiling toilet. Fire me if'n you dare.
    • When Fry quits to become a police officer, the Planet Express crew quickly discover that they need Fry to distract them from how much they don't get along with each other.
      Professor Farnsworth: Fry, we have no idea what you do around here, but we desperately need you back.
  • 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... because otherwise, he would have to teach a new assistant his filing system.
    • In the episode "Homer the Smithers", 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 eventually snaps from Burns' treatment and punches him (hard enough that he thought he'd killed Burns for a moment). This traumatizes Burns, and he becomes terrified of Homer. This forces Burns to learn how to do things for himself like use the phone, prepare coffee, and drive a car. He thanks Homer for this just as Smithers is coming back, and Smithers ends up fired. Eventually, Homer injures Burns again and thus Burns relies on Smithers once more.
  • 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 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 the townspeople up from the funk bought on by everything else mentioned.
  • The Smurfs (1981):
    • In the 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 the episode "King Smurf", Papa Smurf, leader of the Smurfs, has to go out of town to gather spell components. He leaves Brainy in charge and, long story short, the Smurf Civil War is the end result. Papa Smurf returns to a village that's been converted into a fortified walled city complete with armed guards, a palace and Smurfs battling in the streets. "You've been behaving like human beings!" So much for any thoughts he may have had of retiring anytime soon...
  • 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 most people do not have. Downplayed, as there are other people who could do the same job, but as Buck points out everyone who can already have a job.
  • In The Legend of Zelda (1989) 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.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants, of all people, has managed this with his job at the Krusty Krab. A number of episodes have Squidward or occasionally Mr. Krabs himself trying to take over for him as fry cook, only to perform an Epic Fail such as burning a Krabby Patty, fries, and a milkshake in "Pickles" and serving a customer a fried boot instead of a sandwich in "Hooky". Lampshaded in the song "Employee of the Month," sung by SpongeBob himself with one of the lyrics:
    If it weren't for me, this place would fall apart.
  • One episode of The Amazing World of Gumball has Lazy Larry quitting and Elmore turning into an apocalyptic wasteland within an hour. It's not that nobody else can do the jobs he does so much as that he just does so many jobs that his quitting left way too many vacuums for the rest of the town to fill.
  • In one episode of The Flintstones, when one of Fred's Zany Schemes gets him fired from the quarry, he ends up getting his job back in the end because he had geared up the dinosaur digger he operated to the point that only he knew how to work it.
  • An episode of Codename: Kids Next Door had Numbuh One leave for a day on a solo mission. In his absence, a number of supervillains attack the KND headquarters and four established badasses prove unable to mount an effective defense. When he returns, he effortlessly organizes a battle strategy that defeats all of said villains and sends them packing, illustrating exactly why he is in charge.
  • The reason why Coop pilots the Megas XLR instead of the much more competent Kiva. Coop salvaged and rebuilt Megas in his own outlandish way and Kiva has no idea how to pilot the thing anymore.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012) displays this perfectly in "New Girl in Town." Sick of constantly being second-guessed and not receiving any appreciation for his efforts, Leo hands his leadership over to Raph, who is firmly convinced he can do the job better. Raph soon cracks under the pressure, and while fighting Snakeweed, he can't think of any better plan but "go for the head" and freezes up completely when Mikey is injured. After they escape, Raph confesses to Splinter that he can't handle being leader and now realizes what Leo has to deal with every day.
  • In the Storm Hawks Villain Episode "Power Grab", Master Cyclonis leaves Ravess in charge of Cyclonia while she leaves on a private mission with the Dark Ace. Almost immediately, Ravess uses her lofty position to put give her brother Snipe humiliating assignments, who soon attacks her and takes over. Snipe's disinterest in actual administration gets the Raptors nearly killed, and so they launch their own coup. When Cyclonis gets back, Leugey is on the throne, with everyone else stuck in a jail cell due to their own infighting.
  • Wander over Yonder: "The Axe" sees Commander Peepers get fired by his boss, Lord Hater. Without Peepers to help manage his army, Hater's planets are easily reconquered by Sourdough the Evil Sandwich. It is only when Hater rehires Peepers that everything goes back to the way it was before.
  • Central Park: Bitsy has this problem with her staff.
    • Helen is a Workaholic who is trying to weasel her way into Bitsy's will, and thus has spent years making herself indispensable. Even on her only day off, she has to prep things so that Bitsy will be able to function without her. While no one directly attempts to replace her, the bartender does believe he can talk to Bitsy without Helen as a buffer, which leads to...
    • Bitsy first fires the service bartenders, assuming that one man is more than sufficient to run the hotel's bar in addition to handling room service and her own personal drink orders. When he attempts to convince Bitsy to rehire the staff, she fires him too, reasoning that he'll be easy to replace. He's quick to point out that (a) he's the only one who knows how to make Bitsy's signature cocktail, Schnop Goes the Weasel, (b) most of the patrons at the bar come out of loyalty to him, not the location, and indeed, they all follow as he walks out, and implicitly (c) Bitsy is such an unpleasant employer that any other capable candidates wouldn't be willing to put up with her. Bitsy first attempts to mix her own drinks, then enlists a bellhop to do so.

    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 Louis 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.
    • Napoléon 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 projects 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.
  • Shinzo Abe, Japan's longest serving Prime Minister, first took office in 2006 to replace the highly popular Junichiro Koizumi but had to resign a year later due to health problems. That set off a period of government instability as Japan cycled through five successor Prime Ministers who each barely lasted a year in office until Abe returned to power in December 2012. Abe would then serve continuously for nearly 8 years across two landslide reelection victories, showing a remarkable amount of longevity in an office that usually changes hands every 2-3 years. It was only due to his health going south again that Abe resigned for a second time in September 2020, leading to fears that his departure would bring about another period of government instability. Sure enough, his immediate successor Yoshihide Suga was out of office after a single year.
  • John Howard served as Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He left office after losing a Landslide Election in which he became only the second sitting Prime Minister in Australian history to lose reelection to his seat in parliament, in which he was replaced as Prime Minister by opposition leader Kevin Rudd. Rudd would be ousted from office by his own party partway through his term, becoming the first of four successors to Howard who failed to complete a single term in office. It took nearly 15 years until the streak was broken by Scott Morrison, who rose to the office in 2018 and completed a full term from 2019 through 2022, when he was voted out of office in that year's election.
  • As British Prime Minister John Major was getting hammered from all sides due to internal divisions within the Conservative Party and vicious criticism of his job performance from the press, he called a leadership spell against himself in 1995 to give his opponents the chance to unseat him, publicly challenging them to "put up or shut up". Major only attracted token opposition from John Redwood and was reelected as Tory leader in a landslide.
  • Oliver Cromwell, with respect to the Roundheads. He seems to have been genuinely conflicted about this; the story of Cromwell's time in power is of a man who was forever being offered power after a political crisis, then trying to establish a stable constitutional regime only to find that the men who staffed it were less committed to the new constitution than he was, which led to a political crisis, which led to him being offered power... When he died, the monarchy was restored... albeit in a form that amounted to a "crowned republic" in which the monarch was increasingly marginalised.
  • Simón Bolívar, the Cromwell of South America. Each time he took absolute power, he showed every eagerness to return that power to some kind of constitutional regime. (A somewhat authoritarian constitutional regime that left him with a sizeable chunk of power, yes, but a constitutional regime nonetheless.) However, each time he tried this, he was beset with plots that led to a political crisis that led to the remaining forces in society to ask him to please take absolute power again. Unlike Cromwell, Bolívar did have himself to blame for this to some degree, as he probably could have avoided a lot of this if he hadn't insisted that New Grenada and Venezuela (and Quito) remain united.
  • Otto von Bismarck had this set up for most of his career. Unfortunately, he came up against a Kaiser who either didn't realise this or just didn't care, and removed the one person keeping everything running (relatively) smoothly. This ended badly for just about everyone, as it turned out to be part of what led to World War I.
  • After the Tokugawa Shogunate was overthrown by a coup led by the Daimyōs of Satsuma and Choshu, Emperor Mutsuhito/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, more or less reasonably capable of handling this complicated role as it gradually expanded... But under the less able note  Yoshihito/Taishō, the role really became crucial and he struggled to check the military against the newly-ascendant Diet (his reign is called the "Taishō Democracy", as it was the first time the elected government held true power). His successor, Hirohito/Shōwa, 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, inexperience 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 Imperial Japan entered World War II, any distinction between the military and the government had completely broken down.
  • Tsar Ivan the Terrible, who could be very cunning at times, executed this 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. Josef Stalin, who seemed to respect Ivan's example in many things, also seized power by threatening to resign and leave a power vacuum. Stalin's policy was to purge anybody who made himself indispensable, giving the ideological justification that this trope is antithetical to the principles of communism.

  • John Brown, in the run-up to his raid on Harper's 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.

  • In the early days of the Nazi Party in Germany, before it came to power, Adolf Hitler threatened to quit unless the party's governing committee gave all power to him and acknowledged him as the party's undisputed Führer. By this time Hitler had already made himself indispensable as NSDAP's principal public face, public speaker, and fundraiser, so he got his way.
  • 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 nicely. 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 satirized this policy when he wrote The Prince from his prison cell as a scathing critique of Lorenzo II de' Medici (descendant of Cosimo and the grandson of the first Lorenzo).
  • 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; under their leadership, the composite monarchy was to suffer as they tried to leave the governing of their realms to "favorites" and governing councils so that they would not have to bear Phillip II's workload and could spend more time enjoying themselves.
  • In retrospect, America really should not have overthrown Saddam Hussein. His secular political platform and vision of national unity, as well as his brutal repression of dissent or insurrection 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 that the Western coalition shouldn't have helped to topple Muammar Gaddafi, either; however, unlike Saddam Hussein (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. As it happens, that happened anyway, but at least Gaddafi didn't get a chance to engage in mass murder, and (with the exception of the fairly-weak-if-still-terrifying local branch of ISIS) the sides in the present conflict generally try to avoid committing atrocities against the civilian population.
  • 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.
  • Steve Jobs, despite not being really liked by some of his coworkers, was indispensable to Apple: they tried to fire him once, and it was catastrophic to the company. And while Apple struggled to keep their part of the market, Steve Jobs bought Pixar — one of the most successful animation studios. After Jobs' death in 2011, some think this trope has fallen back into effect for Apple, as they think Apple's not as creative or innovative as they used to be.
  • Chiang Kai-shek, despite being an authoritarian military dictator, managed to keep the entire Kuomintang, or Chinese Nationalist Party, united under his rule. This is made more impressive by the fact the KMT was actually more of a non-aligned/centrist political coalition with various bickering wings, ranging from liberal to conservative to traditionalist. In one case, Chiang 'retired' on 10 December 1931 during a particularly stressful period. Within hours, military officers refused to obey the new government, public protests demanded Chiang to come back, the entire government panicked and tax offices refused to submit forms without Chiang's return.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Vetinari Paradox, Unappreciated Indispensible Man, The Worst Except For All The Others, Keystone Character, Unappreciated Keystone


Vickers Gets Fired

Vickers is fired when his poor management of Strickland Propane causes the employees to quit and he can't just hire new ones without HazMat certification and he also can't even hire certified ones due to the height of the season.

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4.81 (21 votes)

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Main / LaserGuidedKarma

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