the tail wags the dog

the tail wagging the dog

The smallest or least important part of something in control of the larger or more important elements; a reversal of typical roles or dynamics of power. They reorganized their entire weekly schedule just because their son likes to sleep in late. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. Their group is small but very vocal, so be sure that management doesn't give in to their demands. We don't want the tail wagging the dog, after all.
See also: dog, tail, wag

the tail wags the dog

the less important or subsidiary factor or thing dominates a situation; the usual roles are reversed.
1997 Spectator What is wrong is the almost total lack of artistic leadership, the administrative tail wagging the dog.
See also: dog, tail, wag
References in periodicals archive ?
Now rather the tail wags the dog, the dog must wag the tail.
US's involvement in the negotiation In reference to the she joked, "Well the US is the only third party that Isreal would listen to, so to speak, although there is a saying that the tail wags the dog.
Racing will never reach a wider audience while the tail wags the dog.
In a lot of cases in New Jersey, the tail wags the dog.
Some experts say that retail follows residential, and some say it's the other way around: I say it doesn't much matter whether the tail wags the dog or the dog wags the tail, since the result will be the same in any case.
And this is what Clinton needs to do for, unfortunately, the tail wags the dog here: Shrewd press management is what makes a successful Presidency.