Chateau Generals

By | November 15, 2018

[November 15, 2018]  Much is to be learned from war whether we want to admit it or not.  Now that we are at the 100th anniversary of the end of the “Great War,” most citizens remain reluctant to revisit the horror so that we may learn valuable lessons.  One lesson is that great leaders do not lead from the rear.  Such leaders are derisively referred to as Chateau Generals or Chateau Leaders.

From my experience, being called a Chateau General is an insult.  Its meaning carries a number of negative connotations such as not caring for your followers, being overly concerned about your own personal wellbeing, and lacking in moral and physical courage.

The term “chateau generals” came about at the end of WWI to help fix blame on the high death-rates among soldiers on the battlefield.  If you do not know firsthand what is going on with your troops or with your employees because you have been voluntarily insulated from information, then you are a chateau leader.

One example stands out during WWI.  British Major General Frederick Drummond Vincent Wing CB (pictured in the thumbnail of this article) was a career soldier who had taken command of the newly formed 12th [Eastern] Division in March 1915.  At the Battle of Loos in Northern France while visiting frontline troops, he was killed by enemy shellfire.1  He was no chateau general.

“Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge.  It brings out all that is best; it removes all that is base.  All men are afraid in battle.  The coward is the one who lets his fear overcome his sense of duty.  Duty is the essence of manhood.” – U.S. General George S. Patton

Much criticism today has been leveled at out-of-touch senior political, military, and business leaders.  The oft repeated argument is that some leaders are simply incompetent; perhaps the Peter Principle is applicable and they have been promoted to their level of incompetence.  I don’t think this is the case.  Fear is the chief motivator for chateau leadership.

Fear is a difficult emotion to overcome.  Fear is an enormously destructive force; one that harms us in ways we don’t even know.  Conquering fear is the epitome of great leaders.  Chateau leaders … beware!


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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

24 thoughts on “Chateau Generals

  1. TerrinIssa

    Not too many books were written from a woman’s perspective on WW I. However, a pretty good fictional read is “Rilla of Ingleside” by Lucy M. Montgomery. And yes, while it is a novel, it gives some insight to how Canadian citizens of a small PEI community react to the war and how some leaders grow and evolve.

  2. Dale Paul Fox

    Another insightful and thought-provoking article. Thanks for pressing home the point that leaders who are more interested in their personal comfort and safety will never be great leaders. That is why when we see politicians come back to argue with their detractors, that we appreciate them.

  3. Greg Heyman

    How we behave as leaders matters a lot. People see us doing what we do. If we are somewhere in the rear eating Cheetos, they will not see us and think we don’t care. That is the point of this article and others like it. The issue is that leaders cannot always be at the front for several reasons. So they must balance what they do. Good article today General Sattefield.

    1. Kenny Foster

      Personally I didn’t think the article was very good. It looks like it was written by a spoiled, insulated Millenial generation kid.

  4. Anita

    “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” by Nelson Mandela. I think he’s onto something here but Mandela was a deeply flawed leader.

  5. Scotty Bush

    I’ve never heard it called chateau generals before but when I read the title I instantly knew the concept you were driving at. Pres Obama was one of those chateau generals; he waited until he knew which way the political winds were blowing before he committed himself. That is why he will eventually go down in history as a leader who never reached his potential.

  6. Max Foster

    I think the point of Gen. Satterfield’s blog today is that all leaders should take a mental step back and look at how they are leading. Leadership is about people and therefore a leader must be around people to make this happen. Spending time on the computer answering emails, etc. will not get the job done. Get out there with the people you lead and you will not go wrong. Just my two cents worth.

    1. Lynn Pitts

      Thanks Max, I agree with your assessment and it is not an easy task to do this. That is why they say leadership is difficult. Simple in achievement but complex and difficult in execution.

    2. Gil Johnson

      Well said, Max. Thanks for being on target again today.

  7. Wilson Cox

    If you want to read additional info on this topic, the recent book by US Army general Stanley McChrystal is out just a couple of weeks ago. In it, he discusses the value of types of leaders and the circumstances under which they lead. It’s a worthy book. McChrystal has become a bit of a liberal now that he no longer is in the US Army but his writing on this topic is good.

    1. Janna Faulkner

      Another great book on the topic is “The Bully Pulpit” by Doris Kearns Goodwin and is about, obviously, US Pres Theodore Roosevelt. Recommend it to all readers here. A long book but definitely worth the read.

    2. Bryan Lee

      Thanks for the recommendations, guys!
      Much appreciated.

  8. Drew Dill

    Generals, like any CEO, has to balance “seeing” for himself what is going on and also remaining in a position to plan and lead his men.

  9. Army Captain

    Certainly, army generals are not literally out front of all their troops but they should not be placed in immediate danger as their value is easily lost.

    1. Danny Burkholder

      Good to see you on this morning and to get a thumbs up from you on Gen. Satterfield’s post. 🙂

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