David Farr has seen his share of crises over two decades atop Emerson Electric Co., but no CEO could have been prepared for the pandemic that has swept the globe. The Wall Street Journal interviewed Mr. Farr dozens of times throughout the course of the year about how he managed amid the coronavirus threat. Here are a few of the leadership principles that he believes have helped Emerson succeed and not just survive. (Read the full story.)

--Thomas Gryta

1. Keep moving forward

-The company needs to be moving forward until it gets stopped, and then all focus is on the problem stopping you.

-Leaders can't be afraid to be wrong in making tough decisions, as long as they are staying in motion.

"If you ran into a wall -- like the states trying to shut us down -- you ran at the wall, and you tried to figure out how you climb that wall."

2. Don't believe the conventional wisdom

-You can't wait for perfect information in order to make a decision -- sometimes you need to trust your gut.

-When enveloped by uncertainty, talking with your rivals facing similar obstacles can help navigate unknown waters.

"As soon as you hear someone say 'the new normal,' plug your ears, and say, 'bulls -- .' Since I've been CEO I've seen a lot of new normals."

3. Break down problems into smaller choices

-Any crisis, even a pandemic, can be treated like a planning process with steps. With deep uncertainty, businesses should control what they can but make reasonable decisions to move forward slowly and change direction if needed.

-Leaders need to figure out their options based on current knowledge and set the course for the organization. Each step allows for assessment before continuing, pausing or reversing.

"Everyone's looking for advice or just the perfect answer. There ain't no perfect answer."

4. Remote work has its limits

-Just because you can't have big meetings doesn't mean you shouldn't meet. Small group meetings have proven very effective, especially to reassure people that everything is under control.

-In abnormal times, leaders should seek to create a sense of normalcy when they can. Go to site reviews, meet with investors.

"It's all going back to trying to make people feel like we're back in business, it's back to normal, it's safe, I'm here to talk. People are getting tired" of video calls.

5. Over communicate and be more transparent

-Work is changing so err on the side of oversharing to put employees at ease.

-Companies can make workplaces safe -- but workers need to feel like they are safe.

-The board of directors should know everything that is happening. Shareholders too. They are the bosses so don't wait until you have all the information, or for them to ask.

"CEOs need to give direction of what is going on -- and they need to give visions. You don't 'know,' but you need to show what we see."

6. Pay attention to who came through for you in a crisis, and don't forget it

-Keep track of the employees who went above and beyond to keep operations running or attend to customers. Make sure those people are rewarded and don't wait to do it.

-Bosses need to remember that workers and their families may be going through hard times and need additional support. You have to be flexible in meeting their needs.

"As a leader of a company, you take care of your people, and they'll take care of you in the long term."


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

December 04, 2020 10:10 ET (15:10 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
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