Elite AgentLEADERSHIPOpinion

2021: The year of people-driven leadership

It’s not easy to generate a clear picture of what 2021 will bring. Uncertainty is probably the only certainty, and the reality is that without a COVID-19 vaccine there is a possible scenario we will still be operating in a start-stop fashion. Nigel O’Neill takes a look into the future.

As we move into 2021, there are still so many questions to be asked, and answered, about the lasting impact of 2020. For example, how quickly will the economy bounce back and how will the real estate industry be impacted? How will society change as a result of our new working habits?

For leaders, the challenges will be enormous. The most important job will be building resilient team – people who can quickly adapt, stay mentally strong and who are loyal to your business.


Your team members will have suffered a lot of stress during the past six or more months, with reduced income, financial stress, loss of their work tribe, as well as disassociation from their social networks.

Not only should leaders be looking to provide their teams with the training and tools to cope, but they should be working to ensure that what comes out of these experiences is personal growth, not long-term trauma.

Make sure you are regularly sharing your vision for the business moving forward.

Always be honest about what is happening and, if possible, reassure your team on their job security. If that is not possible, be honest about that too.

Divide your vision, your plan, into small milestones accompanied by goals for each team member. Set up reward systems to deepen engagement and commitment. Rewarding is not bribing, it is acknowledging work done well that has benefitted your business.

While, for sales agents, a staggered higher commission rate is a reward – also consider ‘money-can’t-buy’ experiences and, don’t forget, your property managers and administrators need recognition and rewards too.

The key is to be thoughtful in the giving; make it relevant to the person so the gift has a deeper message of appreciation. 


Not too many people in your organisation will have worked through a recession, and your younger team members, in particular, are going to need support.

It’s not just about tough times economically, it’s about all the distressed sales that may result, and the heartbreak and emotional onslaughts that they will be exposed to as they list properties.

Take the time to listen to their stories. Get expert advice on how your team members can mentally protect themselves while remaining empathetic.

I do believe that, given the amount of economic stimulus that has been pumped into the economy by both the state and federal governments, this recession will be over fairly quickly.

The trick is to survive, and that means assessing all areas of your business for efficiencies. While retainers and salaries are quick ways of reducing your bottom line, your team members are valuable assets who are going to help you grow the business.

Those businesses that can keep their teams intact are going to be fast out of the blocks when the J-curve flicks up.


The restrictions and lockdowns that we have endured have forced our industry to turn to technology to provide contactless services. Years of innovation have been compacted into one short period.

People have adapted and are far more willing to use technology and online options to conduct business. There can be real efficiencies achieved across the business – particularly in property management – by continuing to embrace change.

Don’t stagnate, keep abreast of emerging technologies and search out ‘best of breed’ to implement.


Working from home has been the big social change to come out of the pandemic.

Employers have learned that it is possible for team members to work effectively remotely and employees have benefitted from reduced travel costs and time, as well as flexibility in their hours, while still getting the work done.

While agents need to be in the office and on the road for many of their working hours, there are other roles within your business that could quite easily be carried out entirely from home.

Until there’s a vaccine, the required social distancing and need to reduce risk within your office is probably going to dictate a hybrid working arrangement comprised of more hours of remote working interspersed with rotating times in the office.

No doubt, 2021 will be a turbulent year, but leaders who keep their eyes firmly on a brighter future, with a flexible, measurable plan to get there, will survive and thrive.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “The future depends on what you do today”.

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Nigel O'Neil

Nigel O’Neil is the Head of Growth at Barry Plant. For more information go to www.barryplant.com.au