The Sweet Spot: A Veteran’s Day Leadership Message

by Stephen T. Messenger

November 9, 2021

We all have different talents, but sometimes those talents don’t overlap with our passions. Even when they do, there’s not always the opportunity to use our gifts. However, when all three come together, something magical happens.

As we enter Veteran’s Day, we remember Pat Tillman, NFL athlete who turned down a lucrative career to become a Soldier after the 9/11 attacks.

This hero understood where his talents, passions, and opportunities intersected, the definition of the sweet spot.

Pat Tillman was first known for his athletic ability as a safety. He proved his worth on the field at Arizona State University, and this earned him a contract with the Arizona Cardinals. Even though a smaller player by NFL standards, he broke the franchise record for single season tackles.

While he was a skillful football player, he had many other passions. He earned an accelerated degree in marketing, graduated Summa Cum Laude, was a voracious reader, competed in endurance races, pursued a Master’s in history, volunteered with the Boys and Girls Clubs and March of Dimes, and constantly mentored kids.

He found the areas where his talents and passions intersected and seized many opportunities to change lives.

We, as leaders, wander the halls of our organizations every day and cross paths with people that have many hidden talents and passions. Each one we talk to has their own secret gifts and desires that we’ll never know about unless we ask. 

Every organization, meanwhile, could capitalize on these talents in different ways. And yet, so often we fail to identify hidden talents, understand our peoples’ passions, and link them up to opportunity.

Once, upon entering a new job, I talked to a very gifted employee who understood his talents and passions, yet felt he was not given the opportunity to use them. His perception was that leadership was keeping him from achieving his full potential in the organization, and it was impacting his morale.

He suggested areas and tasks where he could be more useful and that were in line with his natural gifts. We then found an opportunity to use him on a mission that matched his suggestion.

In this position, he thrived!  He was unbelievably motivated in this new role, great at the job, and when given the opportunity to prove himself, crushed it!  His attitude and passion were then brought back to his daily duties, making him more impactful within the organization.

As a leader, you must ask your people the following questions to see how best to use them.

1. What are you deeply passionate about in this organization?

2. What activities do you feel you are “made to do?” 

Then, you must ask yourself the following question: How can I create opportunities to use this person’s talents and passions to best serve the team?

Leaders create opportunities to harness the potential of their people and transform this untapped power into action. 

Your people have ideas on how to improve the team. If you don’t ask, your organization will remain static. Give people opportunity, and you will be surprised.

Pat Tillman, on September 12, 2001, told a reporter: “At times like this you stop and think about just how good we have it, what kind of system we live in, and the freedoms we are allowed. A lot of my family has gone and fought in wars and I really haven’t done a damn thing.”

Just a few months later, he announced that he was placing his football career on pause to join the U.S. Army. Tillman knew his passion and talents lined up perfectly with the elite Army Rangers, and 9/11 offered him the opportunity to take that path. He found his calling and lived in the sweet spot.

Leaders must find the sweet spot within their team. People come with talents and passions. It’s our duty to provide opportunity and capitalize on their motivation. Only through knowing your team and leveraging their abilities will you be able to take your organization to the next level.

Finally, great leaders know their own talents and passions, then create opportunites in the organization outside their assigned responsibilities to make legacy impact.  Don’t wait for someone to hand you opportunity. Create your own! 

Pat Tillman of course was tragically killed in action in Afghanistan; however, he lived a life driven by passion and a call to service beyond himself. The Pat Tillman Foundation has provided over $20 million in scholarships to future leaders, hosted leadership conferences, events, and programs, and has changed the lives of thousands of people. His sweet spot is true leadership having legacy impact.

Thank you, Pat Tillman, for seizing your sweet spot.  And thank you to all Veterans who serve and continue to serve. 

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2 thoughts on “The Sweet Spot: A Veteran’s Day Leadership Message

  1. Sir, powerful staff! I Would recommend reviving OPDs within the organization to best digest your article. The BLUF as I see it is that we become to busy to truly learn our teammates real capabilities…what makes them tic…where is that sweet spot? If we invest the time and effort on developing our personnel, we could develop awesome organizations. Many of us know this, but we don’t practice it. My two cents!


    1. Mario, great comments. I’ve been planning professional development within the building for a while now – just need to be in the building… You’re right, this would be a great topic. Looking forward to things settling down so we can get together as a joint field grade team. Great wisdom in your remarks – thanks!


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