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Inspirational leadership in tough times

"I run a three-office independent estate agency. We are finding things very tough right now as I’m sure many agents are. I’m conscious that my staff looks to me for leadership through this sticky patch. Any tips?"

Julian O'Dell
Julian O'Dell image

Julian O’Dell is founder of TM Training & Development

JULIAN SAYS: The words of Nelson Mandela are particularly appropriate in tougher times, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front, especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.”

Whether or not you class this ‘sticky patch’ as ‘danger’, it is crucial to exercise key leadership principles and practices when circumstances dictate.

Statue of leader image“Our research indicates that what really matters is that leaders are able to create enthusiasm, empower their people, instill confidence and be inspiring to the people around them,” says Peter Handal of New York based Dale Carnegie Training. Sounds simple doesn’t it? But so many ‘leaders’ in our industry, be they business owners or managers, fail to stick to the essentials that great leaders do every day. A few of the most important:


Just as the key to success in estate agency is building relationships of trust with clients and customers, the same can be said of the relationships between leaders and their staff. Levels of loyalty and enthusiasm are inextricably linked to levels of trust engendered by the leader. Trustbuilding is a multi-faceted discipline, including demonstrating to employees that you care about them. Show an interest in your employees beyond what they do in the workplace. Enquire about their child’s progress or wider family matters. Chat informally sometimes about your staff member’s pastimes. Show you’re interested in their careers and review their development with them regularly.

What really matters is that leaders enthuse, empower and inspire.

When employees make mistakes, don’t lose your cool – calmly explain why you judge their behaviour or actions to be inappropriate – and what you expect in the future. This type of leadership response helps the employee realise you are not criticising them or giving them a hard time for the sake of it but rather that you have their longer term best interests at heart.

Be consistent – leave your moods at home – there’s nothing worse for undermining trust than staff wondering which side of the bed you got out of this morning. And be fair – any favouritism, whether real or perceived, is a disaster waiting to happen.


The best leaders have the strength of character to face up to challenging situations and address them honestly. Whether it’s navigating through a downturn, addressing team issues or guiding underperforming employees to better results, leaders face these challenges with confidence and purpose. Ongoing communication with the team, keeping them abreast of not just good news but also the challenges to the company and how it is dealing with them helps make employees feel like you trust them and that often the reality of the situation is nowhere near as gloomy as the staff’s perception.

I remember in 2008, as a Partner of our estate agency, gathering the 80+ staff together one evening and explaining the strategy we were adopting to defeat the challenges of the market pretty much falling off a cliff. I lost count of how many emails and calls I received over the subsequent 24 hours thanking me and the fellow partners for our openness in clarifying the true nature of the battle ahead – a battle I am pleased to say, that we came through comparatively unscathed compared to many.

As the aforementioned Peter Handal said, “The gossip at the coffee machine is usually 10 times worse than the reality.”


John F. Kennedy said, “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.”

The most successful leaders are typically curious and highly committed to acquiring new ideas, principles and knowledge.

Handal is undeniably spot-on in my view with his assessment: “The most successful leaders I know are truly very curious people. They’re interested in the things around them and that contributes to their vision.”

Ask yourself what new information you have absorbed and what new knowledge you have applied in recent weeks. If none, do so before it is too late. Read a book or two on leadership, attend a training course, talk to other people who have dealt with (or are currently handling) similar situations.

In conclusion, the role of a leader in the estate agency industry is always indescribably important, yet the level of importance is ratcheted up still further in tougher times.

Jim Rohn put it better than I am able to, saying, “The challenge of leadership is to be strong, but not rude; be kind, but not weak; be bold, but not bully; be thoughtful, but not lazy; be humble, but not timid; be proud, but not arrogant; have humour, but without folly.”

August 23, 2018