• Ollie Horsfall

Leading and Being Defensive


Photo: Stanislav Callas


When I set out to start DonkeyDrop Theatre last year it was down to the fact that I didn't want to be under the thumb of someone ever again. I've had a some really shitty managers in my time and working in an office, whilst fairly easy going, gets difficult when you're underpaid and underappreciated, even if you enjoy what you're doing.


The problem with transitioning from a follower to a leader is that you can't always be right. In fact, a refusal to admit mistakes seems to be a problem with most of the managers I've had. Now it's not like I can't be stubborn, and just because one person feels I am wrong, it doesn't mean I am. On the other end, just because someone feels you are right it doesn't mean you are. I'm not at a stage yet where I get my ass kissed, and it's not something I'd ever want, in my company I promote honesty. Since everyone I work with is important to me, people can quite happilly approach me with any issues they have. This philosophy has its issues when I've grown up to be naturally defensive.


I'm quite capable of taking criticism... that I am expecting... but if I don't expect it then my tendency to feel attacked kicks in, even if the criticism is valid. I think this might come from being bullied in secondary school and having a bit of a tough time understanding myself until my later twenties. It's not always a bad reaction, but I have always been a sensitive person, usually it serves me well and occasionally it causes me some real problems.


For me, a strong reaction will lead to a quick solution with a bit of time to think. I'm quick to react but usually quicker to find a compromise. When it comes to things I am passionate about I want nothing more than to have others who are equally as passionate about it to be happy too. That can't always be the case because if I said yes to everything then the cons could start to outweigh the pros... if that happens I might fall out of love with what I'm doing. (It hasn't happened yet.)


The stress of running a theatre company is that you have so many people to please and disappoint in equal measure, usually with strong personalities and opinions. The majority of issues come from assumptions or miscommunications. Organising events, producing shows, casting, writing and directing shows and all the things that come in between, means I am guilty of it too sometimes. Clarity is occasionally impossible. I do my best, just as everyone else does and things tend to work out in the end with a few bumps along the way.


The thing that tends to keep me on track is a healthy appreciation of the fact I am good at what I do. There's no use in me being humble about the fact I understand the stage, I understand performance and I understand what is necessary to make a show go from good to outstanding. I am good at this and that is why I started DonkeyDrop Theatre, because it is something I know. It's in my blood. Performance and all the things that come with it is deep in my bone-marrow.


I've been on the precipice of giving up recently, a day or two here and there where everything gets to be a bit much... a rant, a cry a usually a call to mum really does help. A big lesson I have learned this year is that it's not my job to please everyone. Sometimes situations call for a refusal to budge, and that's okay. Really, it's fine to say no, it should just always be the last option.


I'm going to try harder to get less defensive when approached with unusual circumstances. I am going to try harder to listen and in doing so find routes to obstacles disappearing as opposed to creating more for myself.


That said, a good leader is secure when he sounds sure, not uncertain, so I'll also be sure to be very clear for the sake of my own sanity in the future.


This journey is a learning curve, as whilst I am personally learning to handle situations and people as I'd like to be handled, I lose sight of my emotions sometimes. In my working life, I try my best to never let me mental health get in the way, of course it does sometimes, but it's the lessons I am learning about myself through these internal and external struggles that are making the difference in the long run.

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