My six biggest mistakes of 2016


Like most of us, I fuck-up pretty regularly. Also like most of us, I don’t like admitting when I get something wrong.

I’m learning to a) admit mistakes and errors of judgement to myself and those affected and b) do my utmost to learn from those mistakes to minimise the chances of me making them again.

Reflecting on the past year, I made a lot of cock-ups. Some were borne of lack of experience, and some could be characterised as things I should have done but didn’t.

Here are my six biggest failures of 2016…

1. I failed to get management buy-in into a culture initiative

I covered this in a previous blog. In the spirit of self-flagellation, here’s a quick recap: I lost us a lot of money and some good will by ploughing ahead with Project Heartbeat before getting full buy-in and support from the senior leadership team.

I learned a huge amount about the importance of reaching consensus on big decisions. I’m still instinctively prone to doing things impulsively, but I have lots more checks in place now to ensure I’m more circumspect and considered about giving things the green light.

2. I was too slow to surrender responsibility

Until relatively recently I rather arrogantly believed that I was absolutely critical to our sales function.

I dealt with virtually every lead – regardless of where it came from – from first conversation to signing a contract. This led to a range of problematic consequences – everything from me consistently doing 18 hour days (not sustainable, as it turns out) to there being a profound disconnect between sales and delivery (far from an ideal client experience).

I’ve now surrendered a large amount of responsibility for sales, and naturally the world hasn’t ended. We’re still hitting targets, and the management team is happier with the quality of contracts we’re signing. And I’m getting some sleep.

This was a failure of delegation – and a failure of me struggling to create a framework in which a delegation of responsibility was both feasible and appealing (to me).

3. I failed to look after my health

Along with the 18 hour workdays I was living a sedentary lifestyle and did literally no exercise. I was under a huge amount of stress, I drank too much (to cope with the stress), I had a poor diet etc etc.

I shouldn’t have been surprised therefore when I got a rather alarming wakeup call in the shape of a horrific set of blood test results. The only person more unimpressed than my doctor was my wife.

The birth of my first child also proved a motivating development: on a primal level I felt a new responsibility to my family to be fighting fit.

And I also now realise I have a responsibility to my company to be healthy. How can I be effective colleague if I’m exhausted and regularly sickly?

As failures go, this one was pretty monumental. I’m now embarking on a health and fitness regime that’s already paying dividends (literally, I believe).

4. I was too focussed on vanity metrics

A great top line number is a great validator. It’s also basically bullshit.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was that ‘Revenue is vanity, profit is sanity, cash flow is reality’. Shame I didn’t heed that.

I’m laser focussed on profit this year (which will filter-down to cash), to the point that I honestly couldn’t care less if our revenue flatlines or even drops.

5. I did a terrible job of communicating bad news

On very rare occasions, we have to make difficult decisions that result in us changing direction and, regrettably, parting company with people.

I’ve never done a good job of communicating bad news. When I’ve done it, I’ve done it so badly that the news itself — and the impact of it — becomes so much more destructive than it needs to be.

My failure to do this well was surprising given I always considered myself sympathetic, empathetic and thoughtful. Turns out I’m not.

I hope I never have to deliver bad news again. In the unfortunate circumstance that I do, I’ll be working very hard to get it right and seeking lots of advice beforehand.

6. I stopped learning

I got out of the habit of reading – reading about business generally, reading about the tech industry, reading about the PR industry – reading about anything.

This led to me losing my creative spark, losing curiosity and losing interest in my business.

I realised that I perform much better in virtually every aspect of my job when my mind is engaged in the process of considering and absorbing new information. I’ve recently rediscovered the joy of reading (primarily but not exclusively business books) and developed a podcast habit that’s proving inspiring and motivating. 

I’ll share which books and podcasts I particularly recommend in a future blog.

About the author

Sami McCabe

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By Sami McCabe

About Author

I'm Sami: founder & CEO of Clarity PR and occasional angel investor. I blog here about entrepreneurship, leadership, building great company cultures, angel investing, fatherhood and personal development.

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