Prabhupada would oftentimes speak about the difference between following in the footsteps and imitating. He would say that following in the footsteps of the previous acaryas means that we follow the same path they themselves walked. It also means to follow their instructions. Therefore, mahajano yena gatah sa panthah....they leave behind instructions by which their followers can traverse the same path as they themselves also traversed. Imitating means that we try to artificially imitate the position of being fully realized without being fully realized.
April 29, 2014, Vitebsk, Belarus, BG 6.32