Give life to our purpose
In October 2013, my father John Manley MBE lost has battle against a brain tumor. He and I never really saw eye to eye about a number of things and as a result we had an uneasy relationship. Yet his final lesson to me, made me think deeply about the true nature of leadership. Dad was quite traditional in his outlook and as a result we organized a classic English funeral for him, with his body being buried at the local rural church in the heart of the Kentish countryside. At his funeral, I was greeted by men from his past lives as an architect, as a pillar of the local community and as an officer in the British Army. Each said the same thing to me, with tears in their eyes: “He was a great man your Dad. We would have followed him anywhere.” I was deeply shocked by this revelation and struggled to marry up my version of Dad with the man being described to me by his friends and former colleagues. So I decided to find out more about who he was and why he did what he did. It turns out he had a very strong, consistent purpose in life. It turns out that his work was simply a means to live out and respect that purpose. And it turns out that this clarity of purpose attracted others who believed in the same things as Dad, to go with him, sometimes to extremely hazardous places. You see his story shaped this purpose and his work gave him the opportunity to fulfill it.
Dad was born in 1938 in South London and as a small child was evacuated to the countryside to avoid the German bombs that flattened huge swathes of his home town. In fact, when he finally retuned to live with his Mum towards the end of the conflict, much of what he had known had gone, along with many of those he had known. This sowed the seed for what would become incredibly important to him as a man. The need for a safe community where all could thrive. This was first demonstrated in his work as an architect, where he was to win awards for the community housing he designed in Greenwich, London. The homes were all about creating a shared common space where people could come together and live safely. In the late 1960’s he moved his family to a new, modern village in West Kent. Here he was met with groups of youths who felt bored and isolated by the lack of transport infrastructure. So he established a rugby club, where these young men could come together in a more positive, rewarding context. The club grew and continues to thrive 40 years later. Lastly, he joined the British Army as a territorial soldier within the Royal Engineers. This was at a time when the UK economy was going through some tough times. There were constant labour disputes, images of rioting on the television and people losing their livelihood. Dad saw an opportunity to build a community within the ranks of a new army unit, drawing on local men and women to form what was affectionately to become known as “Manley’s Marauders”. His recruitment was to be so successful that he was promoted rapidly, becoming a full time Major and leading his troop into the first Gulf War. He was eventually awarded the Member of the British Empire (MBE) medal by Queen Elizabeth II. These stories about Dad taught me what it means to be deeply connected to a core purpose, to have a clear why and to see our work as a way to give life to our purpose. When we do this, we naturally attract those who choose to follow us, not because they have to, but because they want to.
I want to give the final words to one of his army colleagues who wrote an obituary for Dad on “The Sappers Site”.
“Major John Manley was unfortunately taken from us on the 29th October 2013. John was one of those larger than life characters and we first met when he was brought in from the TA to 33 Engr Regt EOD to help with the build up to Gulf Pt 1. I worked really closely with him for nearly 4 years and irrespective of the rank difference we became firm friends. He personally requested that I was posted to Engr Br at HQ UKLF to work on EOD things with him, and I can honestly say that I would have followed him anywhere. He had a vibrant personality, a wicked sense of humour, and I don’t think I will ever find a truer friend.”
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