Is a Leader Allowed to Fail? The Story of the “Dragon”

(Photo by Yiannis Karagiannakis via Eurokinissi)

By Georgios Goulas**,

A Leader is the one who persuades others to act for something they would not do without his encouragement. A few months ago, Panagiotis Giannakis – a living legend of Greek and International Basketball – decided to get involved in the legendary club of ARIS Thessaloniki and take over as a Coach.

The most beloved basketball club in Greece is not struggling for glories and trophies any more, but for survival. As a player he had fought for ARIS for 9 years. Panagiotis Giannakis and Hall of Famer Nick Galis were the dynamic duo who had lead the team into the pantheon of European basketball. With his historical return he would unwillingly conduct an experiment on the core process of Leadership.

Influence. Would he succeed? It is very interesting to look for the Leader where there is no automatic influence deriving from prestige, position or status. The status of ARIS basketball team was unattractive for any professional. More often than not, someone assumes a leading role on their own initiative, based on their personality traits. Sometimes a true leader rises during a crisis.

Both conditions applied in the Dragon’s* case. P. Giannakis has the knowledge, virtues and ethics that a Leader must possess. He tried to impart leadership features to his athletes, to the demanding audience of ARIS, to the press and other non-institutional actors.

He tried to assign extra responsibilities to both the members of the club and to the fans, hoping that this would motivate them. He did not impose anything on anyone but attempted to set the example himself with his complete dedication. He picked up the different needs and wishes of team members and facilitated them without raising obstacles.

The results were unsuccessful but he chose not to highlight the club’s severe problems and not to criticize his athletes. After all, the important elements in a communication are the ones that are not said. With active listening, he let the criticism fall on him, protecting his associates. He maintained a positive attitude. He stayed calm when facing unfair criticism. He also avoided being angry when the team’s effort was in depreciation by the press. He chose not to lead only as a Coach but also to act like the manager of the club. He dealt with everything.

This was his mistake in my assessment because at the same time he did not secure a broad consensus and worthy supporters.

The decline made its appearance although his presence made people fill the stadium in almost every game.

The year is turning to a mess without funding and real management. The love of fans in every appearance of him was shocking. He took over ARIS knowing that he would experience unprecedented defeats for his coaching career. His vision was, however, to create conditions for the team to be restored to a high level.

After the news of his dismissal first hit the headlines, the new stakeholders decided to formalize it. But when you end your collaboration with a Leader, this means that you start to discount your vision and mission. If you really have any.

If you cannot recognize the contribution of your Leader in a time of crisis and make him feel safe, that means your vision for the club is short-sighted. Contrary to the new management’s style, Giannakis’ intentions have been known since the day he took over.

Giannakis may have failed as a coach in this mission, but not as a fighter, as a true Leader. If anyone wonders about Coach Giannakis’ skills, he has only to study his path and his statistics from 1997 until today. What others reject in us is at the same time our strong point.

I imagine the Dragon reflecting on his choices and analyzing the emotion that led him to this “mission impossible”. He is not dealing with his dismissal. I’m sure! He knows that this decision has secured his legacy in the eyes of the fans and in the club itself forever!

His name will be a catchphrase again very soon…

*Dragon is the nickname of Panagiotis Giannakis as a player

**Georgios Goulas, Career Coach | HR Business Partner | Senior Recruiter

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