[December 13, 2020] Leadership is practiced not so much in words as in actions. Sometimes, you learn this the hard way as an adult, better to learn it through play as a child. I’m reminded of the summer of 1963 when a group of us boys played King of the Hill on a gravel pile left on a vacant lot.
When we got hurt, mom pulled out the 48-cent bottle of Mercurochrome. When we tore our clothes, as kids playing with rocks often do, mom sewed a patch on. Then we got our butt spanked. It would surprise us boys later in life, but we learned some valuable leadership lessons from playing King of the Hill.
- Take action immediately.
- Take care of your body.
- You’ll be surprised by people’s ingenuity.
- You’ll be scared to do things, but do them anyway.
- Play well with others.
- Only those who know how to adapt, win.
- Sometimes you will not be OK, and this is OK.
- You will not always win.
- Regardless of how good you are, someone will be better.
- Good friends make King of the Hill fun.
When we were on the school playground, fights would break out about who got to play Superman, Captain America, or the Incredible Hulk. They’re just a few of the best characters ever created. We learned how to never be alone on the playground, no fun in being alone. We would rather get hurt playing on gravel piles or the monkey bars than sit in our room, read books, take piano lessons, or do homework. But, we all turned out okay.
“The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden, heaven is a playground.” – G. K. Chesterton, English writer, and philosopher
Some of my childhood friends would tease me occasionally about joining the U.S. Army. They all knew I eventually would join. “You were one of the best at King of the Hill,” my best friend Wilson would tell me. I was wiry and fast. I was quick to make a decision, and it was usually the best choice. The military would be about conquering the King of the Hill. I always wanted to win, and the army of the United States gave me that chance.
I won many of those “manly” contests but lost more than I won. In King of the Hill, I learned to lose gracefully and to congratulate the winner. That way, we stayed friends and always wanted to come back in that summer of 1963. 1963 was also the year that U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement were growing, and the first man to spend a day in space is launched on the final Mercury mission.
The year 1963 was a year of a great many lessons. The lessons from playing King of the Hill stayed with me. Those who ‘almost won’ by knocking the top guy off the hill were not winners. Only the boy standing at the top won. There was no second or third place trophy for us. Either you won, or you lost. Period.