Courageous Conversations: How Nigel O’Neil uses servant leadership to engage his team, change culture, and improve business results

Barry Plant CEO Nigel O’Neil has established a reputation as one of the most successful leaders in the industry. Here, he offers an insight into his approach, along with key leadership lessons he’s learned within real estate and beyond.

Having led some two of the industry’s best known real estate groups to success, it might come as a surprise to hear Barry Plant Chief Executive Officer Nigel O’Neil say he was a ‘terrible leader’ when he first started out as a business turnaround expert more than 20 years ago.

But he states he was. Although he loved improving businesses, it wasn’t until he drew on emotional intelligence and embraced a ‘servant leadership’ style that he found the ability to bring people together and have them accept change.

Drawing on his extensive experience in finance and banking, Nigel has now helped businesses in a range of industries improve their processes and procedures, find their unique culture, and improve their results.

In this Courageous Conversation, Nigel shares his journey from chartered accountant to real estate CEO, discussing why the industry is unique but, at its core, still the same as any other business.

He discusses the importance of measuring customer satisfaction, why it all comes back to process and procedure, and how to engage your team so your company culture attracts talent and retains it.

Nigel also looks at some of the biggest challenges ahead for the industry, and how leaders can prepare for them now.

He discusses client feedback, and why it’s critical to service-based business like real estate but is not just about seeking reviews and testimonials.

Noting leadership is a privilege, he also offers a thought provoking insight into the leadership style that has seen people change industries to remain part of his team.

“To me, being a servant to the team means I’m here to develop the business. I’m here to help them develop as people. So, it’s a simple mantra that if something goes wrong, it’s on me, and if something goes well, it’s them…” – Nigel O’Neil

Leanne and Nigel also discuss:

  • What surprised Nigel the most when he came into the real estate industry, and why the emotion makes it different to any other industry.         
  • How Nigel went from growing up on a farm to accountant, business turnaround expert and highly regarded real estate leader.
  • The key moments that defined him as a leader and helped him formulate his servant leadership style.
  • Why great leadership is all about looking in the mirror when something goes wrong and out the window to thank your team when things go right.
  • What Nigel believes real estate business operators should measure, and why the whole industry is based on process and procedure.
  • How he believes real estate businesses can improve their operation by focusing on customer service across both property management and sales, and why the two should never be viewed in isolation.
  • Why leadership is a privilege where the mistakes need to be owned by the person at the helm.     
  • How he identifies blindspots in a business and why they provide a critical insight into training opportunities.
  • How the industry should address labour and talent shortages that will become increasingly obvious in the period ahead.
  • Why there’s no point recruiting people into a bad culture, and how leaders can shift that culture to see their team more engaged.

Plus much, much more…

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Leanne Pilkington

Leanne Pilkington is Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons.


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