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 ?
'In a nutshell, our system makes the tail wags the dog rather than the dog wagging the tail.
The Tail Wags the Dog: International Politics and the Middle East refutes the common notion that Middle Eastern history is based on the region's interactions with the west, and offers a different idea: that such history has actually been formed more by trends and behavior patterns within the region than dictated by encounters from the outside.
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." She went on to explain the importance of the US' presence by saying, "we believe that the US should be able to stand up to Israeli violations, to put an end to Israel's impunity, sense of entitlement, and of course privilege.
Racing will never reach a wider audience while the tail wags the dog.
When the tail wags the dog: Perceptions of learning and grade orientation in, and by, contemporary college students and faculty.
"In a lot of cases in New Jersey, the tail wags the dog. You build what you can sell.
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.