01. Clive Steeper: Going fast in business and motorsport

Clive Steeper

Sue Stockdale, co-founder of Access to Inspiration talks to Clive Steeper an executive coach and business leader who is passionate about performance.

As a former Tyre Engineer in F1 and Team Manager for a Le Mans 24 Hour Endurance racing team, Clive Steeper has been up close and personal with some of the world’s greatest racing drivers. He shares some insights about leadership and performance from his experience in business and motorsport. Clives LinkedIn profile.




Clive Steeper transcription

Sue: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Sue Stockdale from access to inspiration. And today I’m talking to Clive Steeper an award winning business coach and leader who loves helping people to improve their performance. Well, I know you’ve got a lot of business experience running fast growth companies, and you have coaching skills that you’ve been using for many years with clients as well as a passion for performance, which I understand began in your childhood with an interest in cars.

Clive: [00:00:37] Yes, indeed, yes. As a young boy, I was always active. I could never sit still. but the thing I loved to do was to play with my toy cars and make imaginary, roads and villages and drive around. That’s really where it all began in my imagination.

Sue: [00:00:54] So from that imaginary world of cars, Clive. How did you get into motor sport for real? Because [00:01:00] I understand that you have worked in formula one and also been a team manager for le Mans?

Clive: [00:01:05] Probably in one sense, because I was stupid. I just wanted to find out what it was like going fast and that was, I was always trying to ride my bike as fast as I could. where my father worked, it was on an airfield and they used to race go-karts, so I got to meet some of the people there. Somebody had to go cart for sale, and I saved up my money from working in the holidays. And that’s where it all began.

Sue: [00:01:28] So from that go-karting into the world of being an employee and no less a leader in the elite end, a motor sport. How did that work out?

Clive: [00:01:38] well, it was slightly serendipitous. I had really developed a strong interest in motor sport through my school days and was very much a, a fan of certain drivers and would read everything I could and watch everything I could.

And after I’d finished university. Yeah, there was a job advertisement, [00:02:00] which I didn’t think that I would be able to, to succeed in getting that job because I didn’t have the experience, but I wanted to work in motor sports. So I applied. and it was really through that, that I started, I joined as a tyre engineer knowing nothing about tyres. And very quickly learnt. And I think, out of that, what became clear is if you have a genuine passion for something, you can really quickly develop some of the other skills that are necessary because you want to.

Sue: [00:02:28] From yourself working for Goodyear, and you were able to move your way up through different, working with different types of drivers. Tell us a bit more about that.

Clive: [00:02:36] I think when I first started, you know, we were all young guys. I was a young engineer. They were young drivers who were people of all sorts of cultures, therefore from all over the world. And one of the things that, became clear to me very quickly is when they’re in the cockpit, they’re driving. You know, the high on adrenaline and emotion. And in those days there wasn’t the technology that we [00:03:00] have today. So it was very much down to the engineer and particularly the tyre engineer to understand what the driver was wanting from the car and what they were doing to the car. And so the ability to navigate through that sort of emotional control, emotional intelligence was actually very important because you had to adapt to different cultures, different emotional levels, but also to be able to ask good questions that you could quickly get to what was at the core of the issue with the car. Cause you never had very long. So it was the ability to ask good questions, make quick decisions and therefore make good decisions. Those were the things that I think I really learned very quickly, at, at Goodyear.

Sue: [00:03:43] I know that that leap frogged you into working in a lot of other fast growth industries. I understand creating solutions that had never existed before. That must’ve been fascinating. Tell us more about that.

Clive: [00:03:56] Yeah, it was. It was. It really did bring together some of the things [00:04:00] that I’d learned in racing. Not that I knew that at the time. But I think when you’re going into the unknown, and to an extent, I think you yourself will know this with some of your endeavors so confidence in and belief that you can work, and perform well in a risk situation that you’ve prepared for the venture that you’re going to do. Performance. I’ve touched on this, the ability to make decisions quickly and to assess things quickly. And having agility and adaptability. If you’re going into the unknown, it might not all work out quite as you expected. And I think that, again, the emotional control that you have to stay positive and focused when you’re, you’re there. And all of those aspects that I’d learned in racing, it was creating the environment and the culture and the team in those different organizations. And with that some excitement for what we were trying to do. And also, I think one of the other very key for me, I call it a lubricant, [00:05:00] was to have fun and to have some humor in what was going on because there would be mistakes. And those aspects have to be, you know, have to be accepted and dealt with.

Sue: [00:05:08] I understand the importance of giving people space to be creative. And as you say, Clive make mistakes. I also understand these days in business. Perhaps there’s not such a tolerance of mistakes being made or risks being taken. How would you balance both of those things?

Clive: [00:05:28] I think for me, what I, what I’ve created before now is, is a tolerance framework so that people know that, that it’s that everything cannot be perfect. I think the, the other piece that is involved in this is the human. transaction, it’s the human conversation. I don’t know that that tolerance can always just come by pressing a button on a computer and it being a yes or a no because there’s applied learning that comes from, you know, how did that mistake happen? What was happening? Is it telling us something else? Cause sometimes [00:06:00] we can think the fault, the problem is where the incident occurred, but actually it may be with something else which could lead to bigger issues. So I think, one of the things around tolerance and the reason for it is to gain the understanding.

Sue: [00:06:14] Now, I imagine that those skills are also useful for you when you’re working now in your career as an executive coach. Tell us about some of the situations and issues that you work through with your coaching clients.

Clive: [00:06:29] Often where the clients are having challenges, it’s really trying to get a underneath not just what the challenge is, but what is going on around that situation? Sorry, I live in a slightly old house with old clocks. Often it’s about trying to have the conversation with the client without any sense of consequence or blame. It’s just looking at the situation to understand the parameters and then [00:07:00] begin to explore what could be done to them to  improve the situation. And I think the other thing is trying to help clients to look at things with a forward view rather than a rear view. In other words, worrying about what has happened in the past. It’s learning from that and then looking forward as to how things can improve. So it’s, it’s walking into the positive.

Sue: [00:07:22] The sense I get from how you’re describing that Clive, is that the coaching relationship sounds like it needs to be a very safe space. For a client to work in?

Clive: [00:07:33] You’ll be absolutely correct. Well done. It’s, it’s, it’s not only safe, but also it’s, I encourage them to think without constraints, so to consider things that they might not have considered before. Don’t worry if it sounds silly, don’t worry if it’s something you can’t do now, but if it might help the situation going forward, let’s look at that. How and why and and explore that, which comes back to your earlier question about working in areas of innovation and creating things that have not [00:08:00] been done before. You have to think differently.

Sue: [00:08:02] That might assume then Clive, if you want your client, your clients to think differently, or perhaps put the challenge to you is how do you encourage yourself to take risks and think differently? So how do you role model what you want to see in your clients?

Clive: [00:08:16] One of the things I I try to do is. To put myself into their place, their boots into their perspective, and think about things from their points of view. And given I work across a number of different industries. It isn’t about having the industry knowledge per se, it’s, it’s understanding their boundary conditions. And I, I think the other thing that I do both when I’m in the coaching session and after the coaching session is to do some deep reflection on what went on, what could have been done differently to see if there was anything else I could I could have done or could do at the next second.

Sue: [00:08:58] So reflection is, is an [00:09:00] important part of helping you to take risks and step out your own comfort zone. Is that something you do on your own or do you work with a coaching supervisor on that?

Clive: [00:09:08] I work with, with myself and my supervisor. I’d say it’s a bit more than the important. I’d say it’s absolutely vital. I think my, my knowledge from performance is if you are not reflecting on your performance, if you are not preparing yourself for the next performance, it doesn’t work. I can’t just jump in my racing car and drive at the front of the grid. I could drive in the middle of the grid, but I wouldn’t be able to get to the front. I have to prepare for it. So I think that preparation is very important and good preparation comes from good reflection.

Sue: [00:09:38] So that really rounds up all of the things that you’ve been doing. I can see a thread really running through your career around agility and by agility I mean speed, speed of reflection, speed and agility to change direction and also speed from your love of racing cars. Would you say that that’s something that’s a thread from your career?

Clive: [00:10:00] I think that’s a great question. So, and I think for me the danger with speed is people think, can think and assume that that something’s been done too quickly. I think it’s about doing things well and quickly. And one of the things that for me is very, important is it’s the speed of assessment. And within that is the quality assessment. Assessment, and that’s what I do as a coach, as a business person is what I do as a race driver and an instructor.

You have to assess things well and do it very quickly. You can’t have indecision and am fascinated I recently listened to a, an interview with a ex world champion who became a successful business person and they said one of the things they noticed is. Despite some of the very bright people around them and within the world that they were working, they would take a long time to make decisions, whereas he was making decisions quickly.

It wouldn’t always get them right, but was very [00:11:00] close in most occasions. And I think that is one of the aspects that can happen with, with, you know, the sort of career, if you like, that I’ve had.

Sue: [00:11:09] It seems like there the iteration process going around that learning cycle, reflecting, acting, taking decisions. One might imagine then that you’ve been around that process perhaps a lot of, a lot of times in your career, and therefore a lot of learning has been gained. So my final question to you, Clive, really, is what are some of those key elements of wisdom or top tips that you have gleaned that would be useful for our listeners to think about in your career in coaching, in motor sport and leading businesses?

Clive: [00:11:44] Wow. There’s a question. I think if I base it on the fact that we all want to do well at whatever it is we do and therefore I was summarize that as performance. And I know not everybody likes the word performance. It makes them worry cause they think they have to [00:12:00] win. There’s sort of areas, if you like, of of wisdom I would pass on is.

If people spend time thinking negatively, I challenged them to to consider why they’re not spending more time thinking positively. Because there’s positive in pretty much everything that we do, as well as the can be negative. But if we focus on our desired outcomes and we maintain that focus and find the positive, we can move things forward.

So I think not dwelling on the negative is, is one thing I’ve learned, you know, and I’ve been involved in things that have not gone well, clearly. And also I think applied learning. Often people think that everything has to be new. And, and often we know. More than we give ourselves credit for. So if we use good reflection, we can, we can learn from what what we know and what we’ve done.

I think one of the other things is never to stand still. The world today moves very quickly, so we always have to be aware of [00:13:00] where we can improve. So those, not to say we need to reinvent the wheel, but it’s at least looking and knowing where we can improve if we have to. And I think the final one for me is, is to have what I call an Island in the week, is to have a period of time in the week where you can escape from the work or the pressures, whatever it is you do.

And you can just. Take stock of what’s going on and relax, because if we try to just keep pushing all the time, ultimately the performance will drop.

Sue: [00:13:31] Thanks, Clive. I love the idea of that Island and the week I’m going to think about how that can be created. Finally, how can people find out more about you and the work that you do on social media?

Clive: [00:13:41] I have a Twitter account so they can get me @Clivesteeper. And also I have a website, which is Clivesteeper.com so both of those are very easy, accessible areas where people can reach out to me or, or, you know, catch up with what I’m doing.

Sue: [00:13:57] Brilliant. Thanks for your time today, Clive. I’ve really [00:14:00] enjoyed talking to you.

Clive: [00:14:01] Thank you very much. Indeed.

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