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The Greek Freak's Lessons On Success – Embracing A Growth Mindset In Leadership

Bestselling author, keynote speaker, workplace expert and resilience researcher Adam Markel inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption in his new book.

Executive Contributor Adam Markel

Known as “The Greek Freak” to NBA fans around the world, Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo has become one of the most popular professional basketball players today. A Greek-Nigerian, Antetokounmpo's speed, size, and strength, along with his unbelievable ball-handling skills have made him a true household name. While his size and skills are nothing short of phenomenal, it’s his words on winning and growth that you’ll want to wrap your mind around.

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Wins and losses in sports are used to determine success and failure. Simple, right? Perhaps it isn't. Through the comments of Giannis Antetokounmpo, the NBA playoffs last year brought a delightfully counterintuitive perspective on the subject. His thoughts shed light on the necessity of a growth mentality in leadership, as well as the distinction between teams focused on short-term victories and organizations that value risk, resilience, and growth.

The fallacy of failure

In response to a question concerning the Milwaukee Bucks' playoff defeat to the Miami Heat, who were seeded lower than them, Giannis offered some insight that struck at the core of sports culture. He brushed off the idea of failure, pointing out that there are good days and off nights in any sport. There are days when you win but there are also days when you’re bound to lose. Like heads and tails, these two go hand in hand. In short, the extent and quality of our achievements are determined by the way we handle failure.

Antetokounmpo emphasized that success in athletics, like in life and business, is a privilege rather than a right. His viewpoint casts doubt on the traditional notion of failure and provides insightful analysis of the kinds of organizational cultures we should foster. We are not supposed to create things that are not sustainable, and failure is essential to our development if we are to endure over the long haul. There will always be good days and bad days and how we choose to handle them decides whether or not we can call ourselves "successful."

The necessity of losing

Following Giannis' remarks, two groups emerged almost instantly. One that believes in the conventional wisdom that failure is defined as anything less than a championship. The trophy is raised by one team. The only type of success worth aiming for is when one team takes home the gold.

Giannis' statement was praised by the opposing camp as one of the most elegant ways to talk about the complex nature of winning and what it implies. This other faction maintained that one cannot succeed without experiencing the lessons that come from losses, and that failure is an essential part of success.

Learning organizations vs. Extraction organizations

By comparing corporate culture to The Greek Freak's way of thinking, we can differentiate between two kinds of organizations: learning organizations and extraction organizations. Extraction organizations place a higher priority on predetermined results and quick wins than they do on learning and development. Since they see achievement as the ultimate objective, exhaustion, mental health problems, and toxic work environments are commonplace among them. It’s no wonder that some organizations are having trouble persuading their members to abandon the security of their homes and return to the workplace.

Learning organizations, on the other hand, understand that failure is an unpleasant but necessary step in the process. They are aware that individual and group development shouldn't be sacrificed in the name of achievement. These organizations encourage continuous learning and growth by trying to gain valuable lessons from failure. Learning organizations prioritize long-term growth and advancement by transitioning from an extractive, fixed attitude to a growth perspective.

To grow, we must embrace failure

Losing doesn’t imply surrender or abandonment of goals. We establish enterprises, make adjustments, and welcome change because of competition. But it's important to recognize that losing makes us face and eventually accept our own shortcomings. Future successes are predicated on gathering the essential data. Failure becomes a chance to adapt and grow in a learning organization. It also helps to draw important lessons from failures to make the organization stronger and more flexible to the inevitable changes that occur every quarter.

True success is a growth mindset

Giannis Antetokounmpo is the epitome of success, as seen by his incredible rise from a Nigerian immigrant family struggling to survive in Greece to becoming an NBA champion. He is a prime example of the new breed of leaders who prioritize ongoing learning and development and have a growth mindset. Giannis is an inspiration to millions since he overcame hardship and gave his family generational prosperity.

His insights question conventional ideas of success and failure. His observations emphasize the difference between extraction and learning organizations as well as the significance of a growth mentality in leadership.

Organizations can create the conditions for long-term success by accepting failure as a chance for improvement and placing a high value on ongoing learning. Giannis's tale is a potent reminder that learning from failure is actually how we win. Losing is never a sign of weakness. We succeed when we learn.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: Redefining success in sports and beyond

Dubbed “The Greek Freak,” Giannis Sina Ugo Antetokounmpo has captivated the basketball world with his electrifying presence on the court. A Greek-Nigerian marvel, Antetokounmpo combines speed, size, strength, and extraordinary ball-handling skills, carving out a reputation as a household name in professional basketball. Yet, beyond his physical prowess lies a profound wisdom about winning, growth, and the true nature of success.

Rethinking wins and losses

Sports typically frame wins as success and losses as failure. However, Antetokounmpo challenges this binary view. In the wake of the Milwaukee Bucks' unexpected playoff defeat to the Miami Heat, he offered a refreshing perspective. Dismissing the notion of failure as too simplistic, Giannis highlighted the inherent ups and downs in sports, emphasizing that both winning and losing are integral parts of the journey. His approach underscores that our reaction to setbacks defines our achievements more than the setbacks themselves.

Success: A privilege, not a right

Antetokounmpo's insights extend beyond the court, resonating in life and business. He views success as a privilege, stirring a thoughtful debate on conventional failure narratives. By advocating for a sustainable approach to success, he underscores the importance of embracing failure as a critical component of long-term growth.

The dichotomy of failure perception

Following Giannis's comments, two distinct viewpoints emerged. Traditionalists see success solely as clinching a championship, equating anything less with failure. In contrast, a more progressive camp echoes Antetokounmpo's sentiments, arguing that the path to success is paved with the lessons learned from failures. This perspective advocates for adaptability and long-term strategic thinking in the face of setbacks.

Contrasting organizational cultures

Antetokounmpo's philosophy mirrors the distinction between two types of organizational cultures: extraction organizations and learning organizations. Extraction organizations fixate on immediate results, often at the cost of employee well-being and sustainable growth. Conversely, learning organizations value failure as an essential part of the growth process, prioritizing long-term development and continuous learning over short-term gains.

Embracing failure to foster growth

In learning organizations, failure is not a symbol of defeat but a catalyst for evolution and improvement. These entities recognize that setbacks provide crucial insights necessary for future successes. They foster an environment where adapting and growing from failures strengthens the organization, making it more resilient to change.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: A symbol of the growth mindset

Giannis's journey from humble beginnings in a Nigerian immigrant family in Greece to NBA stardom epitomizes the growth mindset. He represents a new breed of leaders who value continuous learning and development. His story, marked by overcoming adversity and achieving generational prosperity, serves as an inspiration, challenging traditional notions of success and failure.

Learning from failure as the path to victory

Antetokounmpo's insights offer a powerful narrative on the significance of a growth mindset in leadership and the difference between merely extracting results and genuinely learning. Organizations that embrace failure as an opportunity for improvement set the stage for enduring success. Giannis's story is a compelling reminder that our greatest victories often stem from how we respond to our defeats. In redefining success, he teaches us that learning from our losses is not just a path to victory; it's the essence of resilience and growth.


Adam Markel, Author & Wellness

Bestselling author, keynote speaker, workplace expert and resilience researcher Adam Markel inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption in his new book, “Change Proof — Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience” (McGraw-Hill, Feb. 22, 2022). Adam is author of the 1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, “Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.” Learn more at



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