Interview with David Coulthard | Knowledge Guild: Leadership under Pressure

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David Coulthard | 26 July 2022

At our first in-person event in the last two years, we caught up with one of the world's most widely recognised sports personalities, David Coulthard. He shared his experience as a Formula One driver and business leader on the topic of leadership under pressure. 

David, you are a former Formula One Grand Prix driver who won countless races. What have you learned while sitting behind the steering wheel in Formula One, and what have you learned as a business leader to about peak performance under pressure?  

I think the rule of any team member is to be the voice of the department they're heading up. In my case, I was heading up the driving department along with my teammate. So, you have a great deal of technology involved in a Formula One car, a lot of data logging and a lot of analysis tools to understand what the car is doing. But in the end, the computer doesn't drive the car; the human being drives the car. So, you have to be the voice that helps direct the engineers towards taking thousands of channels of data and  you've got to focus them on where is the performance potential. And that's through your seat of the pants feeling and from your experience out on that race circuit. 

Drive to Survive – the Netflix series is incredibly popular right now. What is the role of the driver in the team apart from winning the race? 

The motor racing industry is a business like any other business, but it performs at the highest level. Of course, when you're in a Formula One World Championship, you're dealing with very motivated people that come together in their teams to try and perform on the world stage. So, in the end, being a driver within the team, I can't design the car, I can't build the car. I couldn't change the wheels and tyres at the pitstop. You need a team of people. You need successful and motivated people to give you the best opportunity to go and win that race. So, in retirement and working in business, I have the same approach to the companies that I'm invested in and the way I go about my business. It's about having great people who want to work together, to find those people that want to work together, and that recognise the strength in collaboration is what makes a winning team. So, I approach the two industries, the two phases, if you like, of my life and exactly the same way. 

Tonight, the theme is about leadership under pressure. What advice would you give event professionals to help manage pressure and support their teams to deliver at the highest level ? 

Well, I think performance under high-stress, high-pressure situations for me is about experience and knowledge and research, and  preparation. It's about running through the various scenarios and understanding what you visualise. the positive outcome could be, and also recognising what the pitfalls might be. Because if you already have started to think through the pros and cons of every situation and discuss that with your team, if everything runs to plan, then of course it will just seem fairly seamless in the delivery. If things have a hiccup or an issue during whatever it is you're actually doing, then you’ve already worked through how you would recover from those situations. 

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