[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!