By Dr. John C. Maxwell

He walked away from $1 million a year. He forfeited the luxury and status afforded to a professional football star. In a nation where athletes are worshipped, he chose the anonymity of serving his country halfway around the world. Ultimately, Pat Tillman sacrificed his life to protect the United States.

What can we learn from the man who may be America’s most well-known casualty in the war on terror? More than can be written in a simple article, certainly, but three lessons stand out:

1. A leader chooses purpose over perks.
2. The glory of a leader is to sacrifice for the common good.
3. A leader’s sacrifice may not be compensated with rewards.


Leaders don’t allow dollar figures to dictate how they make decisions. Rather, leaders dig within to bring out the best they have to offer to the world—regardless of the compensation. Likewise, they aren’t seduced into settling for a life of luxury. Leaders have a burning passion to make a difference. As a result, they willingly put themselves on the front lines (literally in Tillman’s case) to be in the place of greatest responsibility.

Pat Tillman had been offered a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals football team before he enlisted in the army. He could have cashed in on it, retired in his early 30s, and lived comfortably the rest of his life without ever setting foot in Afghanistan. Yet, Pat Tillman was a leader, and he wasn’t about to compromise his sense of duty. He loved his country, and he recognized his talents would be well-suited to serve U.S. interests on the battlefield. “Pat knew his purpose in life,” said Dave McGinnis, Tillman’s former coach with the Cardinals. “He proudly walked away from a career in football to a greater calling.”


In America, we are quick to assert our individual rights and slow to exercise our responsibility to the community. The generations who persevered through the Great Depression and the World Wars are passing from the stage. We are reaping the benefits of their sacrifices without having to endure their hardships. Perhaps for this reason, we feel a sense of entitlement. We feel like the world owes us a life of ease and affluence. Children expect to be paid allowances, and teens assume they’ll be handed keys to a new car when they turn 16. We feel deprived without wireless internet, TiVo, and HDTV.

Counter to modern culture, leaders know no entitlement. They think in terms of creating rather than consuming. They value corporate welfare above individual security. Pat Tillman’s life bears out this philosophy. In his mind, it was unthinkable to enjoy life in the USA while soldiers protected his freedom abroad. He felt compelled to be the protector, not the one enjoying the benefits of protection.


Tragically, Pat Tillman gave the ultimate sacrifice to his country. His selflessness and bravery led to his death on the battlefield.
Leaders cannot be certain of the costs their sacrifice will require of them. For every soldier who stands victoriously after the war has been won, another soldier lies lifeless on the battlefield. Many times, a leader pays the ultimate price with no reward but the hope of bettering the lives around him or her.

Pat Tillman was an American hero. His life serves to remind us of the tremendous sacrifices we may be asked to make as leaders. Also, his story brings to mind the courageous men and women serving our nation overseas. We thank them for their sacrifice, and we wish them safety and a speedy return home.


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