Everyone makes mistakes, the important thing is how we react to them - Ewan Aitken

Recently I had to sit down with someone whose work had not delivered to the standard we needed and tell them we were ending their contract.

By Ewan Aitken
Friday, 5th August 2022, 7:00 am

I did what I could to be clear, helpful and honest in my feedback, but however carefully it was couched, it’s never easy to hear. But this person responded with grace and gratitude. Instead of getting defensive or angry, they took the time to step back, acknowledge the issues, and give considered feedback on how they could make up for any damage done, and how they were going to change going forward.

This conversation could easily have gone south. It’s never easy to be told you’re wrong, and if we’d gone in with different attitudes, it could have soured a working relationship that’s been really valuable. But because they were able to take our criticisms on board, not only will we carry on working with them, the trust we have in them has been strengthened.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to have an honest, accountable leadership culture – it's hard not to, with the wrangling for the Prime Ministership going on at the moment. And for me, so much of it comes back to exactly this question – how do we respond to being wrong, and handle criticisms we have of others?

It’s hard to deal with mistakes – yours or other people’s - without falling into the trap of playing the blame game. And that helps nobody – when we look around for someone to blame, or end up taking criticism as a personal attack, ego and fear take over quickly and we often end up dropping into defence mode. It becomes more important to find someone to blame than to fix the problem.

We’ve seen plenty of that in the battle between Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss for the leadership, whether it’s Sunak targeting those who “vilify the country” by simply (and rightly) criticising the government when it falls short, or Truss focusing on Nicola Sturgeon’s “attention seeking”. Both freely promise whatever they think will reflect well on them, then quickly backpedal if it doesn’t play well. All told, as I watch this leadership battle unfold, it feels very much like the only thing that matters in this leadership race is who wins the argument, by any means.

And as the cost of living crisis continues to crunch, with homelessness shooting up 23 per cent in Edinburgh in the last year and as many as 1 in 4 of us regularly choosing between food and rent, that’s not good enough. I don’t want to see a Prime Minister who wins every argument by finding someone else to blame. All of us right now need leadership that’s transparent, accountable and honest, and most of all, able to accept when they’re wrong and change course appropriately.

Of course, we all struggle to be wrong sometimes. But like the person I spoke of before, if we’re willing to take a step back and look at how we can do better, and change our approach, instead of jumping to the attack, we can begin to move forwards. In Cyrenians, we accept that all of us will make mistakes, and what matters is how you move forwards.

If we're too caught up in our own egos to learn from all our experiences - including, perhaps especially, our mistakes - how can we do better?

The UK is in the grip of multiple crises, and the most vulnerable among us are suffering for it. Now, more than ever, it’s time for those in government to drop the blame game and learn from their mistakes instead.