Leading in a lockdown – from someone who’s been there six times (and counting!)

Barry Plant Group CEO Nigel O’Neil has shared his insights on looking after your team and yourself while in challenging situations, such as lockdowns.

As I write this, three Australian states are in lockdown and people in New South Wales are facing a particularly challenging, and sadly, further protracted, period of restriction on how they can live their lives and how they can run their businesses.

As leader of Victorian real estate group, Barry Plant, and a veteran of six lockdowns (yes, we’re in lockdown again), I thought it would be useful to share what I’ve learned to do as a leader each time our Premier stands up and announces restrictions.

Once the scramble to understand the impact of regulations and communicate that with all our franchisees is out of the way, then the business clicks pretty seamlessly into all the processes and systems that we’ve developed to continue to provide a service during lockdowns.

That’s when I turn my attention to ensuring the team are coping mentally with the situation and also a bit of self-care. If leaders don’t look after themselves then the business can take a bigger hit than Covid hands outs.

Schedule additional team meetings

Not just WIP’s, just virtual get-togethers with no outcome other than connection.

Go around the zoom room and ask everyone how they are going – generate interaction and take the opportunity to observe your team members and analyse how they are coping.

Use one-on-ones for an RUOK

These are really important, sensitive conversations. You can’t be invasive, but being understanding of what other battles your team member is facing is helpful. Home schooling, an under-or-unemployed partner, separation from other family.

These are big issues to deal with and they don’t get any easier no matter how many times you face them.

Be a caring member of their circle – and put aside any judgements on how they are performing their role. Your primary role, at this point in time, is to get your team through with as much mental robustness as you can.

Be kind to yourself

It’s easy for your mind to keep slipping down dark alleyways, to worry about an unknown, uncertain future and its impact on your life and your business.

Recognise when this is happening and develop a strategy to drag yourself out of that thought corridor.

It could be an anchor word or just having a great movie, book or Netflix series to spend a few minutes thinking about as a diversion.

Or get up and move around. Exercise is a miracle drug.

It’s great for your body and good for your mind. Those daily walks around the block – or wherever you go for your exercise – give you a mentally necessary break from your desk and the business grind.

If it’s raining and you can’t get outside, move to a different area, sit down, consciously lower your shoulders, relax your jaw and take a time out.

Learn new positive habits

Working from home does give you more control over your schedule.

While your colleagues are probably phoning you, they aren’t stopping at your office door – and you can choose when to answer your phone.

This schedule control is ideal to learn a new positive habit – whether that’s a daily period of meditation or mental relaxation, allocating set time to professional development or one of the many self-improvement projects you’ve had on your list for a long time.

And while you’re at it, try and drop some bad habits – cut back on alcohol and unhealthy food or smoking.

Making this ‘Top Right’ time

Top Right Thinking is strategic thinking and if you have a bit more time on your hands use it to think about what you can change in your business to have a dramatic positive impact on it, or even just small improvements that will provide you a competitive edge.

Learn a new skill

Sign up for a MasterClass – learn how to do something that’s always interested you.

If you’re a technophobe, now’s the time to face that demon – you’ll wonder how you ever lived pre-tech, the benefits are that great.

And, as a business owner in real estate, if you’re not all over PropTech and its advantages, now’s a good time to learn.

Quality kid time

If you have kids at home with you, think of it as an opportunity to spend more quality time with them.

We’re in an industry that carves into our family time so this is an opportunity too good to miss to enjoy them.

While your kids might be pretty chuffed at not having to go to school, they are being mentally affected by the rollercoaster we are all on. They will have insecurities and fears, so make sure they feel loved.

Strengthen the circle

Reach out to people in your circle (business and personal) to check on how they are going.

People will be coping differently.

You’re not a psychologist, but it’s just a matter of asking “are you okay?” and really listening to their answer.

Be kind in every interaction – good deeds, giving of your attention – nurture and strengthen your soul and your resilience.

Being a good leader in these times is incredibly challenging and the financial pressures are real. But an engine room of a mentally strong, motivated team, and a resilient, engaged leader will stand your business in really good stead to recover quickly when restrictions are lifted.

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Nigel O'Neil

Nigel O’Neil is the Chief Executive Officer of The Barry Plant Group. For more information go to