Too Many Chiefs And Not Enough Indians
Posted by Elyse Bruce on September 8, 2011
When someone says there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians what they are really saying is that there are too many people wanting to be, or acting like, the boss and not enough people actually doing the work.
On May 29, 2009 the Daily News out of Los Angeles published a Letter to the Editor written by Janice A. Slaby entitled, “Cut chiefs, not Indians.” The article dealt with a recently published article that dealt with debt problems in the state of California. The letter stated in part:
If the federal, state and local officials were laid off or forced to forgo their salaries, it would be surprising how fast the fiscal crisis would resolve itself. Having worked for the city of L.A. for 30 years, I know there are too many chiefs and not enough Indians. If any group of people should be laid off or furloughed, it should begin with mayoral, council and noncivil service personnel.
Thirty years earlier, the Evening Independent newspaper in St. Petersburg, Florida ran the James J. Kilpatrick politics column on May 24, 1979 and discussed how former members of congress had gathered in Washington the previous week to discuss the failings of the White House. The article was entitled:
Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians
The Sarasota Journal published a news story from New York on April 21, 1954 written by James Flowers and entitled, “Boss Of Million Dollar Firm At Age Of 21 Is No Pipe Dream.” The story was about Leonard R. Rogers, whose company was responsible for 75 per cent of America’s business in tobacco pouches. When he took over the company that was founded by his grandfather 50 years earlier, he re-organized it. At first, he took advice from the established executives at the company only to discover that there were some who had no idea what was going on outside their own departments and he decided to change that way of doing business within the company. The article reported that:
In the shakeup the heads of two vice-presidents rolled, and promotions were made from within the organization. Too many chiefs and not enough Indians is the way Rogers described it. The move paid off. In the years, young Rogers boosted his company’s sales to $1,500,000 a year. Last year he showed a 40 per cent increase in profits and now talks about a new factory and a $6,000,000 volume “in a few years.”
The Eugene Register-Guard edition of August 22, 1951 published an interesting and enlightening news article on the “Indians of Ulcer Gulch.” Ulcer Gulch was the nickname for the Pentagon and the Indians were the anonymous junior officers who work out plans and recommendations on which the Big Chiefs based their final decisions on military matters. In other words, whoever wasn’t considered a chief at the Pentagon was said to be an Indian. The article, written by Don Whitehead of the Associated Press, reported the following in part:
The Indians came into being about the time of Pearl Harbor when it seemed everybody around headquarters was the chief of a branch or a section of some sort. The workhorses said: “Too many chiefs and not enough Indians.”
The chief was the man who said to a junior officer: “See what you can do about this.”
Idiomation was unable to find a published version of this expression prior to this one however for it to be used so openly and easily in a news article from 1951, it is not unreasonable to date this expression back to sometime during WWII.
The meaning of this expression is not dissimilar to the expression too many cooks spoil the broth which was covered by Idiomation earlier this year on March 8, 2011.