Below is a re-post from David Kalson’s blog, introducethenew.com.

In the movie “Lincoln,” President Lincoln is portrayed as a leader who understood that the historic moment to eradicate slavery was upon him and on his generation.

The opportunity, he believed, was now or never. Lincoln also understood that his followers had to lead as well, so they could bring their constituents along in the fight.

The path Lincoln takes in the movie is nuanced. Some at the time accused him of abusing his power and misleading people when it worked to his advantage.

But ultimately he successfully led the fight to end slavery. And as the movie makes clear, he couldn’t do it alone, but needed the help of others. Lincoln’s genius was that he could motivate others, his followers, to themselves be successful leaders.

A recent article in Industry Leaders Magazine defined leadership as a process through which a person influences and motivates others to get involved in accomplishment of a particular task.

Since at least the 1990s, business people have written millions of words on the subject of leadership, what is it, how do you achieve it, how do you instill it in others?

But how useful is the study and development of leadership in business without giving at least as much attention to where the followers are being led and by what route.

We know from historical figures, such as Lincoln, that highly effective leaders existed who could influence and motivate others to pursue a greater good.

Who could define a pathway to reach that goal, and be there with you every step of the way. But some “leaders,” think of Napoleon or Hitler, led their followers off historic cliffs.

The same holds true for business. The challenge is not to value leadership skills above all else and blindly follow those who possess those skills. They could very well lead us to our doom.

As Tolstoy famously observed in War and Peace, “great men” as leaders are a myth; it’s the followers who, cumulatively, do the actual leading, for better or worse, that moves history forward.

For a business leader to inspire leadership in employees, the employee “followers” must carefully assess several things: how realistic is the leader’s vision?

How beneficial? Are the means to the end ethical? Each employee must consciously answer these questions to participate in the act of following – which, itself can become a form of leadership.

Without their active participation the titular “leaders” cannot lead them to ultimate success. The followers are part of the process. It’s up to them to agree (or not) with the leader on where they want to be led and by which route.

It’s true that in business, employees are often compelled to follow their leaders who simply “lay down the law.” (It’s the same for soldiers in the military.) Employees of a company may be forced to be good followers with tacit or overt threats to their job security.

And so they follow embittered if not blindly. The wise business leaders on the other hand know that to motivate supportive followers, followers have to be encouraged to accept their responsibility to be leaders too.

The best leaders invite their followers’ challenges as well as their initiatives. (Again, the same is true in the military.)

Once followers consciously decide that the vision outlined by the leader is achievable, realistic, worth the sacrifice and ethical, only then can they become active, enabling followers — that is, leaders.

The lessons for business leaders and their followers are these:

1) Leadership in and of itself is not necessarily good.

In fact, great leadership can be devastating if the organization is led to its ruin.

2) It’s the job of those who will be following the leaders to judge the leader’s vision and roadmap.

Keep in mind that all leaders, good and bad, will paint exciting picture of their visions that will be highly appealing to many – high profits, high stock price, opening new markets, new products, trouncing the competition and so on.

Be cautious. The leader must also present a realistic and ethical path to be taken in pursuit of their vision.

3) The real assessment of leadership comes down to the practical achievability and morality of the leader’s vision.

Is it affordable (worth the sacrifice)? Are the resources and talent available? Are we contributing to a better world through pursuit of this goal? With satisfactory answers in hand, we can then “follow” our leaders – an act requiring us also to lead.

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image via digitaltrends.com