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How to Follow the Leader

Misconception: To be a leader, you must be a follower.

Before we founded Practice Makes Perfect, I was a blind follower. I desired to be the best at everything. I mimicked the moves of the strongest players on the neighborhood basketball court. I observed the way they dribbled, trained, and made shots. When they practiced their free throws, I practiced my free throws. As they practiced dribbling, I would stand next to them and resemble their form. My childhood friends would tease me. “Karim, you’re such a copycat!” they’d say. Their words didn’t bother me because I was wanted to be the best.

I took this tactic from the court to the classroom. The smartest kids in class sat in the front, were never afraid to ask questions, and always had flashcards before spelling quizzes. I observed their confidence, motivation, and work ethic. The more I watched them succeed, the more I followed in their direction and echoed their patterns. Personal obstacles, like the fear of answering a question incorrectly, vanished. I began to realize through following that making mistakes is a part of the learning process.

Reality: To be a leader, you must be an intentional follower.

Making a mistake on a math quiz was different than making a mistake with the law. One afternoon, my brother came home with ACE knee bandages. They were to improve his game on the basketball court. He looked at me with a devilish grin, “I stole them from the local convenience store.” He didn’t get caught. He was going to improve his game. I wanted to improve too, so I followed.

I wasn’t as sly as my older brother and thankfully so, because the moment I got caught stealing was the moment I stopped being a blind follower, and became an intentional one.

Here are two critical tips to being an intentional follower:

1. Be particular about those you follow and specifically how they make you feel. Does this person encourage you to be the best version of yourself? Do they motivate you to work harder and make you feel proud of yourself? Only follow those that are positive influences in your life. Get rid of those that are negative, no matter what the social consequences may be. Negativity will weaken your mental bandwidth and delay your goal of becoming an influential leader. 2. Don’t be hard on yourself for making mistakes—just avoid making the same mistake twice. Learn from your missteps and the missteps of others. Take each significant moment in your life, good or bad, as a learning opportunity to become better.

To this day, I still consider myself a follower. The biggest lesson learned was not to follow others blindly. I surround myself with those eager to improve themselves and the lives of others for the better. I encourage you to also follow with intention. Join me in building the next generation of leaders. Sign up for tips and resources on leadership here: practicemakesperfect.org/joinpmp