Adapted from LLL of Michigan’s Area Leaders’ Letter, Great Lakes Grapevine, Summer 2009
A coach is someone who encourages, supports, teaches, and provides guidance to someone else, just as an administrator in business or an experienced sports player often helps someone new. In La Leche League, the supporting Leader and the representative from the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) can act as coaches for potential Leaders.
Working with Leader Applicants
As Leaders, one of our most important responsibilities is working with Leader Applicants. It is an investment of time and energy for everyone. The more time we put into working with a Leader Applicant, the more likely she will feel confident and well-prepared when she signs her Statement of Commitment and takes on the responsibilities of her new role as an LLL Leader. A Leader who hasn’t had this coaching and encouragement from the beginning often feels lost as a new Leader and may not have a good grasp on how LLL functions.
In 2009 I completed my orientation for Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (ACLA). At the same time, a Leader was accredited in the Group I was leading. Experiencing the application period from two different perspectives—Group Leader and ACLA— reinforced for me the importance of the role of the supporting Leader. Twenty-six years ago when I became a Leader, most of my application discussion was conducted through correspondence with an ACLA. Now preparation for leadership is viewed as a dialogue triangle among Leader, Leader Applicant, and ACLA. Dialogue can be a conversation in person, via telephone, electronically, or on paper. It is the exchange of information, ideas, and opinions. Each member of this triad is important as the Applicant prepares for leadership.
The more time we put into working with a Leader Applicant, the more likely she will feel confident and well-prepared when she signs her Statement of Commitment and takes on the responsibilities of her new role as an LLL Leader.
Getting to know the mother
Whether the Leader approaches a potential Leader within the Group or a mother comes to a Leader asking about leadership, it is the Leader’s responsibility to take the time to get to know the mother and start the dialogue about LLL philosophy and leadership responsibilities. The Leader needs to be confident that the mother meets the LLLI prerequisites to applying for leadership. If, after her observation of the mother at meetings and their discussions about the responsibilities of leadership the Leader is still unsure, it’s helpful for her to consult with her co-Leaders and/or contact the LAD. The LAD representative for the Area is willing to help with any questions or concerns. The handout Thinking about La Leche League Leadership? (TaLLL) can be a good beginning to these discussions. The compact version of TaLLL is included in the Leader’s Pre-Application Packet and is available online at the LLLI website.
Once the potential Leader has read the prerequisites to applying for leadership and the criteria for Leader accreditation found in “Thinking about La Leche League Leadership” and wants to proceed, it is important to arrange a time to meet face to face, if possible, in a relaxed environment. At this meeting, the Leader and the mother can talk in detail about her birth and breastfeeding experiences and about each of the ten concepts that represent La Leche League philosophy. A Leader might ask the mother for examples of how each concept is reflected in her breastfeeding and parenting. The Leader can give her feedback and ask more questions as needed in order to have a clear picture of who this mother is and whether the mother feels LLL leadership would be a good fit for her. Many Leaders have also found that taking notes during this meeting is helpful when it comes time to writing the Leader Recommendation. Some choose to fill out the recommendation form during the meeting.
Staying neutral and objective
It can be challenging to dialogue with a potential Leader whose experience may not appear to agree with the prerequisites to applying for leadership. In these cases, it is helpful to remain neutral and objective while discussing the specifics of the situation.
When a Leader is evaluating whether she can recommend someone for leadership, she looks at her as a total person: how she represents each concept in her words and actions and how her mothering has developed. LLL philosophy is the guideline for what is important to us as Leaders. A Leader wants to feel confident that the mother meets the prerequisites to applying for leadership, can represent LLL, and can fulfill the responsibilities of leadership before she submits the Leader Recommendation. If a Leader, who knows this mother best, is unsure about recommending her, she can consult the LAD representative for her Area for help, suggestions, and guidance.
Give prompt feedback
Frequent contacts and providing timely feedback during the application period are important parts of the Leader-Leader Applicant relationship. From the beginning, the supporting Leader needs to be conscious of responding to questions and scheduling meetings with potential Leaders and Leader Applicants in a timely fashion. Prompt acknowledgment, if only to say, “I’ll get back to you after I have. . .” conveys the message that the mother and her call are important. Right from the beginning, it is important for Leaders to show how LLL expects her to function as a Leader.
Face to face meetings
For many Leader Applicants, regular face to face meetings work best, especially to discuss the Leader’s Handbook checklist and review any information that the Applicant chooses to talk about with a Leader. This would include the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG) (Note: your LLLID will be needed to log in). Some Groups or Chapters (a collection of Groups) organize regular meetings for Leader Applicants. Through these meetings, the Applicants can support each other, as well as have the opportunity to dialogue with Leaders who work with other LLL Groups—a great advantage. Some Areas have online discussion forums for Leader Applicants.
The Preview of Mothers’ Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (Preview) provides the opportunity for the Applicant to put into practice what she has been learning. It can be done at any time during the application period and does not have to be the last thing the Applicant does. In fact, some Leader Applicants find it helpful to mix role-playing practice sessions with additional reading and research. For example, the Applicant may research a topic from the BRG and then discuss or role-play one of the Preview questions related to this topic with her supporting Leader. Although many people may feel uncomfortable role-playing at first, most Leader Applicants find it very helpful to practice actually saying the words they would use when responding to a mother’s helping call.
While many Leaders and Leader Applicants do the Preview in person, one suggestion that has worked well is for the Leader call at a random time to help the Leader Applicant practice responding to a helping call. This makes the role-playing seem “real” because the Applicant may have to manage a baby or toddler while talking with the “mother” and taking notes. Other Leaders have sent helping questions to Applicants via email and dialogued back and forth about how best to respond to the mother’s concern. Many Leader Applicants will use all three approaches—in person discussion/role-playing, simulated phone helping calls, email helping questions—with their supporting Leaders.
For a Leader Applicant, the supporting Leader is a crucial part of the dialogue triad for accreditation. She is the Leader Applicant’s coach: the person who sees her interact with her baby or children; the person who hears how she responds to other mothers at meetings; the person who can assist her in all aspects of the application itself. She is the LLL Leader who knows the Applicant best. To be an effective supporting Leader, Leaders will often dedicate a significant amount of time dialoguing with a potential Leader and then continue to give her timely feedback throughout the application period.
Linda Wieser was accredited in 1984 and lives in Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, Canada. She is the Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation for LLL of Michigan, USA, and LLL Canada-Atlantic Canada, and the Administrator of Leader Accreditation for LLL Canada. She and her husband, Jim, have two grown daughters, Heidi and Erica.