Oona Collins: Ten key tips for compassionate leadership


The inspirational executive coach behind some of the most successful people in property explains how to lead a team through a crisis...

Written by

Oona Collins

Founder & Director at Potential Plus International

Oona is a Global Executive Coach & Consultant. She specialises in coaching leaders and senior executives through transition periods, typically pre and post promotion, restructures, mergers or in new roles. She has over 20 years’ experience incorporating board level positions in sales and management and has coached over 25 different nationalities. Oona has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Singapore, Toronto, Sydney, Europe and USA and holds a Non-Executive Directorship.

Like many in the world of business today, property professionals are looking for new ways of working and staying in touch with clients and colleagues, so that they can keep moving forward as the UK confronts coronavirus. It is a time of unprecedented uncertainty and, now more than ever, the health, safety and wellbeing of their teams is a top priority as companies adapt their strategy and working practices.

In any crisis, it is paramount to lead with your people, building and maintaining trust even more so now when they need to feel safe and protected. Many organisations and leaders are demonstrating their core values while navigating through these times. A CEO and Founder of a property development company emphasised to me that when addressing the current situation his mission was to ‘protect his colleagues and teams as he would protect his family and let them know that this is driving his thought process’.

Are you looking for ways to navigate the crisis and inspire your team at a distance? Are you working from home and feeling alone or disconnected? If so, here are 10 tips to keep the connections and make the whole experience more positive…

1. Get through this together

One of my clients who built his property management business at the time of the financial crisis has assessed they can run their business and salaries to weather this storm.  He had a conference call to reiterate to his company that he was 100% behind them and he needed them to be 100% behind him.  He is also making sure he pays his suppliers promptly.  He firmly believes that if you are good to your people, suppliers and clients they will be good to you.

2. Pick up the phone

Everyone is in the same boat – old and new clients, suppliers, colleagues.  Pick up the phone and ask people ‘how are you’?  These conversations have been the highlight of my day and I have been surprised to hear how appreciative people are to know you are thinking of them.

3. Be transparent and manage expectations

The CEO of a property investment company who is communicating to his investors and banks, is managing expectations with the principle of under-forecast and out-perform.  He is making job security a priority and advising investors that sales will drop, and values will be disappointed.  He believes a plan that is realistic is better than an unrealistic plan that can’t be delivered.

4. Make all communications human

The tone of an email or text is as important as face-to-face communication.  I recently received an email from the managing partner of a law firm explaining their activities during this time.  He ended on a positive note stating how much all will have learned from this time and how enjoyable it will be to meet again, once the crisis is over. This is the kind of inclusive, empathetic message that builds trust and makes recipients want to work for or with a company.   Be mindful of the directives you send to your teams working remotely making sure productivity is balanced with appreciation – without it they will feel disengaged and undervalued.

5. Manage your mind-set

Our mindset is the most important resource we have.  Where we focus our attention will influence our emotional state.  Avoid watching/listening to too much media.  Exercise daily – our most creative thoughts can come while walking in the fresh air or running.  And process your thoughts with a trusted confidante or coach so you can be your best self when speaking with your teams.

6. Influence up

Leadership in a crisis can be as lonely as working from home and not all of us have the experience or wisdom to get it right.  Be patient when your leader shows a lack of awareness or gets it wrong.  Instead use your own strengths to support and influence them.  Leadership is not about titles and it is often surprising who comes forward at times like this and people will never forget those who were there for them.

7. Leverage the strengths of a diverse team

A diverse team is a strong team. One of my client’s teams includes an analyst – a mathematician who has been tracking the coronavirus situation for weeks and so helping his organisation to prepare. Think about the strengths of the people around you and select the right ones for the right roles, especially in terms of planning and communication.  And remember the most important team, your family, and agree some structures that will help everyone work effectively as a family unit.

8. Keep remote working structures as real as possible

Keep to a familiar structure.  If your team meeting is usually on a Wednesday, keep it that way remotely. This adds continuity and helps people plan with their family.

Schedule a virtual coffee break.  And why not set up social meetings at structured times, like a Friday Happy Hour to close the week with a glass of wine?

9. Make morale a priority

Morale may be the most important issue at the moment. So start the week with a virtual meeting focused on support and encouragement with no discussion of figures or tasks.  Invite people to talk about any wins, or current challenges and pose a question for the group that might be “How can we make remote team working the best it can be?  This enables people to share their stories and offer advice.  In one of my client’s recent calls a colleague asked “Does anyone want a 6 year old? !!

10. Upskill and learn something new

Whilst some people are busier than ever creating new plans, strategies and tools to support their teams, others who used to have long commutes find themselves with more time.  The millennial CEO of a property management company has decided to do a virtual course on computer studies – which will be of value in developing his business. Others are improving a language skill or simply decluttering.  If you have it, treat this extra time as a special gift.

We are all living through unprecedented experiences today, adapting to change and challenge. Most of us will come through the crisis stronger and more competent. So when you are faced with a new task or challenge, think about using the “y word”: just say to yourself, “I don’t know how to do this – yet”