A prime tenet of military leadership is Extreme Ownership, made famous by Navy Seals Jocko Willink and Leif Babin in their book of the same name.
The concept is simple.
Leadership, at every level, is the most important factor in whether a team succeeds or fails.
As MP Bob Benson put it yesterday, “Leaders should be judged by their own actions and their performance measured against their own standards.”
This is extreme ownership.
It applies to every single member of the team and doubly so for the team’s leader.
If your mission failed, it’s because you failed in at least one major way.
If your team failed, it’s because you failed them in at least one critical capacity.
In Erin O’Toole’s case, mission failure was the inevitable result of the poor choices he made on a variety of fronts, the largest of which is his refusal to accept responsibility for any of his mistakes.
O’Toole leaned heavily on threats, coercion and petty retribution against political rivals. When threats and coercion failed to deliver the desired results, he blamed anyone and everyone else for his failures.
O’Toole was the worst kind of leader – one who blames everyone but themselves.
That’s not leadership, it’s cowardice.
It’s also a lack of character of the highest order.
You Just Don’t Understand!
O’Toole says the membership simply didn’t understand him or his plan to transform the Conservative Party.
If your team doesn’t understand your plan, you have failed to communicate effectively. That’s your fault, not your team’s fault.
O’Toole blamed former leader Andrew Scheer and then Alberta MP Garnet Genuis for the caucus revolt.
O’Toole threatened MPs with “consequences” should they oppose him further.
“I’m not going anywhere and I’m not turning back,” O’Toole said on Twitter. “Canada needs us to be united and serious! It’s time for a reckoning. To settle this in caucus. Right here. Right now. Once and for all. Anger vs. Optimism. That is the choice in simple terms.”
The only thing I agree with O’Toole on is that it is time for a reckoning.
Canada’s conservative movement needs a leader of integrity and sound character, a leader who will unite conservatives instead of divide them.
That was never Erin O’Toole.
“I will accept the result of this vote,” O’Toole continued. “The signers of this letter must accept it, too. They brought it. They’ll have to live with it.”
The tone of his comments last night are not those of a leader who respects his colleagues or his party’s members. O’Toole’s tone was that of an angry parent dealing with disobedient children.
That is not leadership.
O’Toole promised anything to anyone in caucus if they would support him in the vote.
Three sources told Global News that O’Toole and his close allies reached out to MPs Tuesday to try and win their support. Two of those sources said O’Toole opened the door to changing some policies he campaigned on just six months ago — if he survives Wednesday’s vote.
“It’s too late for that,” said one Conservative caucus source. “You can have the best policies, you can have the best ideas, you can finally come up with something people agree with. But the message doesn’t matter if you don’t trust the messenger.”
And that’s the bottom line.
Erin O’Toole lied to his members and his caucus colleagues too many times to be trusted. Poll after poll revealed O’Toole failed to resonate with women. In every age bracket and political leaning, women felt he could not be trusted, that there was something deceitful at his very core.
Never Permit Your Opponent to Frame You
O’Toole’s larger problem is he allowed Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party to set the agenda, to frame him and his leadership in a light most favourable to them.
For months Erin O’Toole said an election wasn’t necessary because… ‘pandemic’.
The only reason an election was not necessary is if O’Toole believes his primary rival is doing a good job.
If O’Toole actually disagreed with anything Trudeau, one would expect he would jump at the opportunity to defeat the Liberal leader at the polls.
But he didn’t.
O’Toole’s electoral reluctance means he believed Justin Trudeau is the best person to lead Canada through COVID.
That was an absurd position for O’Toole to take. He could not legitimately claim Trudeau’s pandemic response (or anything else) sucked while simultaneously avoiding an election and the opportunity to defeat him.
Honestly, O’Toole made it far too easy for the Liberal Party’s War Room.
He chose the wrong path as evidenced by the results of the 2021 election, yet the only way O’Toole would even consider changing course on his failed policies is if he could leverage that promise of change to hold on to the big chair.
That’s not leadership. That’s desperation.
His handling of the Freedom Convoy 2022 or, more specifically, his failure to answer a simple question about the convoy was the final nail in O’Toole’s political coffin.
When the best he had to offer Canadians was Justin Trudeau talking points on vaccination even Candice Bergen, his hand-picked deputy leader, jumped ship.
That was the moment I knew that Erin O’Toole was finished.
The Road Ahead
O’Toole treated conservative voters and party members like ignorant children who were too dumb to understand “big boy ideas.”
His high-handed approach, combined with his need for petty revenge against anyone who disagreed with him, are the primary reasons people across the political spectrum despised him.
The challenge for the conservative movement, now that Erin O’Toole is finally gone, is to find a leader who can unite the party.
O’Toole failed spectacularly in this regard. In fact, it seemed he was committed to dividing the party even further in his push to become more Liberal.
Uniting the Party is not the impossible challenge many seem to think it is. All it requires is an individual with the integrity to stake out policy positions and communicate them with clarity so that, even if I disagree with the position I can understand why and how you got there.
An even larger challenge for the new leader, however, is to re-engage with all those Conservative Party members who stopped donating, stopped volunteering their time and expertise and stopped renewing their Party memberships.
O’Toole is responsible for the two worst fundraising quarters in Conservative Party history. That single metric is the best indicator of O’Toole’s failure.
When your failure to communicate your vision causes your most committed donors and volunteers to close their wallets and walk away from the Party, you’re finished.
O’Toole single-handedly drove out the party’s most committed members, then said, essentially, “Who cares? We don’t need them anyway.”
That he still insists, after the vote to punt him from the leader’s chair, to blame others for his failures is a sad commentary on the man and ultimately reveals his stunning lack of character.
The Next Leader
The leadership contest will be interesting, I hope.
Millions of conservative voters now anxiously wait to see who will toss their name into the ring.
My hope is that a man or woman of integrity will step up to the plate and accept the daunting challenge ahead.
My fervent prayer is that individual embraces the concept of extreme ownership because it’s inspiring to engage with a leader who has your back, no matter what, and gives you all the tools you need to win.
Because when your leader accepts full responsibility for their decisions and openly corrects course when they’re wrong it makes all of us more courageous and willing to embrace extreme ownership for our part in the mission too.
This is the win-win scenario the Conservative Party needs from their next leader.