Before You Can Lead, You Have to Know How to Follow

Do you know what Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, and Kobe Bryant have in common?

They are among the best NBA players to ever play of course, but they share something else.

They are all worse free throw shooters than Chauncey Billups.

Here is the NBA all-time ranking of career free-throw percentage:

  • No. 5Chauncey Billups, 89.4%
  • No. 10 — Larry Bird, 88.5%
  • No. 72 — Kobe Bryant, 83.7%
  • No. 76 — Michael Jordan, 83. 5%

How do you become a team leader?

Considering the average NBA star shoots between 70 percent and 80 percent, what makes Chauncy Billups so good?

How can one guy make nearly 9 of 10 shots over the course of thousands of games while another makes only 8 of 10?

It isn’t a secret. In a 2005 interview with Stack Magazine, Billups explains:

[Young athletes] don’t work on fundamentals these days. They run up and down the court practicing highlight moves. Well, you’re not going to do that in a game. I don’t waste my time on it. I practice the fundamentals.”

Chauncy Billups is also a known as a team leader — but this didn’t come naturally either. He learned the skill after getting some advice from former Minnesota teammate Sam Mitchell. According to an ESPN story, Mitchell told Chauncey that “…in order to lead, you have to learn to follow, you can’t be a know-it-all, and you have to be coachable.”

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So how do you go from being a poor kid from Denver to an NBA superstar?

2 steps for becoming a superstar

It’s the same way you go from being a receptionist to a CEO. Chauncey Billups — and almost every other successful person on Earth — will tell you that there are two simple steps:

  1. Learn and practice the basics.
  2. Learn to follow — and be coachable.

TLNT recently published a book excerpt by Eric Chester about the importance of teaching a work ethic to our children. He’s absolutely right.

Benjamin Franklin said that “He who cannot follow cannot lead.” We need to make the kids understand that real life isn’t about shortcuts to fame and fortune as shown on so many TV shows. They have to learn the basics, the fundamentals of being a good employee — a work ethic.

And when they finally have the fundamentals down they can write their ticket for the dream of their great-grandparents — the American Dream.

David Sneed is the owner of Colorado-based Alpine Fence Company and author of Everyone Has A Boss – A Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company. As a Marine, father, husband, entrepreneur, author, and teacher, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the personal benefits of a strong work ethic to entry-level employees. Contact him at


5 Comments on “Before You Can Lead, You Have to Know How to Follow

  1. Great article!!

    I’m pretty thankful my parents [sublimally] taught me a good work ethic by being great workers themselves. To me it seems so obvious that you need to start at the bottom and earn your way to the top, but most others my age (ripe ol’ 22) haven’t learned that growing up.. and, boy, am I nervous to even see the work ethic of the generations to come. Maybe it should start being a lesson in school if children aren’t learning it at home.

    I’ve also read “Everyon Has a Boss” and it’s definitely worth the read, even for those who have made it to the top! It’s a great (quick) reminder of what we need to do and what it takes to get where on the totem pole you’d like to be.

  2. Wonderful! It’s succinct and clear. And it expresses lessons that are transferable to everyone in every industry, from top to bottom.

  3. Great points made here.  We all too often make issues too complicated when all we really need to do is go back to the basics.  Thank you, Mr. Ess, for the reminder!  I look forward to reading “Everyone Has a Boss!”

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