Being a Supporting Leader: One of Five Basic Leader Responsibilities

Laurence Khern, Paris, France


“[A La Leche League Leader . . .] Takes an active role in helping other mothers find out about leadership and helps them prepare to become LLL Leaders.

From “Leader: Basic Responsibilities,” LLLI Policies and Standing Rules (LLLI PSR)

When we become Leaders, many of us commit to fulfilling the basic Leader responsibilities for which we prepared during our application. The above responsibility can seem daunting and stressful for some Leaders, especially when it’s soon after accreditation.

After the pre-application discussion

Perhaps, you have had a pre-application discussion and submitted a recommendation, and the candidate has just been accepted as a Leader Applicant. Or, an Applicant has joined your Group after being recommended by another Leader. 

The candidate or the Group has paid the application fees, if applicable, may have received application materials and is now very keen on getting started. Within a few days or weeks, the Applicant will be assigned a Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative to dialogue with.

After the pre-application dialogue, a Leader will naturally continue to support the new Leader Applicant until accreditation. What exactly is your role as supporting Leader?  You feel you have already done an important part and now you wonder what is expected of you. How best can you support the Applicant to develop Leader skills and be prepared to perform Leader responsibilities when it’s time to sign the Statement of Commitment?

Working with a Leader Applicant

LLL application work isn’t a “training” like a university course. It doesn’t give any degree. There is no test to “pass” or “fail” and no marks. 

Accreditation is a commitment to be an LLL Leader in order to fulfil the LLL mission. There are as many ways of being an LLL Leader as there are Leaders, and every Leader can find within LLL a way to thrive and develop new skills. Your role as a supporting Leader is to mentor the Applicant about Leader work and ways Leaders support mothers and parents.

During the application time, Applicants learn about the five basic Leader responsibilities and how best to meet them. As a supporting Leader you are specifically responsible for working with the Applicant on the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership (Checklist) and the Preview of Helping Questions and Group Management (Preview).  You may also be asked to assist the Applicant with the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG).

You may start by telling the new Applicant how you (and/or other Leaders) perform Leader responsibilities and discuss what the Applicant would like to do when accredited. These discussions can involve fitting LLL in one’s life, practical organization, and balancing LLL with other commitments. Family first is important so we can avoid burning out. It matters to us to keep the job mother-sized. The application period is a good time to start making space in one’s daily life for leadership.

As a supporting Leader, plan to meet with the Applicant on a regular basis. Applicants can start working on the application right after it has been accepted, even if they haven’t been assigned a LAD representative yet. With The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, Leader’s Handbook, leaflets (if available), a login to the LLLI or local LLL website and your support, Applicants have all they need to start exploring Leaders’ tools before hearing from the corresponding LAD representative.  They can also start writing about the ten concepts.

At your regular meetings with the Leader Applicant, your discussions will be guided by the Leader Applicant’s Resource Kit (LARK), by each basic Leader responsibility, by the chapters of the Leader’s Handbook, and by any discussions you may have together about Leader knowledge and skills.

La Leche League is a mother-to-mother, peer-to-peer organization.  During the application period, Applicants develop the skills for supporting mothers and parents and increase their knowledge about basic breastfeeding management.  They are not required to know all the information they are learning by heart. They do need to know where to find the information when needed. It’s helpful to think of the application period as a time when the Applicant is transitioning from the “mother who receives support” to the “Leader who gives support.”

How to use the LARK?

The Leader Applicant’s Resource Kit (LARK) (LLL username and password required) is a guide which helps Applicants understand the five application requirements they need to complete to meet the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation: personal history, Breastfeeding Resources Guide, Checklist, background reading and Preview. The different parts can be explored in any order. 

There are also three optional exercises (Listening Exercise, Bias Exercise and Mixing Causes Exercise) in the LARK which Applicants may decide to do with you.  Applicants are free to explore more topics or reading if they want; however, they shouldn’t be asked to do more than the necessary work to meet accreditation criteria. Any further work is optional. If you don’t know what is required, refer to Applying for Leadership, LLLI PSR and/or ask any LAD representative.

Once you have planned to meet on a regular basis, discussions can focus on exploring the basic responsibilities:  

  • helping mothers and parents one-to-one by telephone, by email, social media, or in person
  • planning and leading monthly Series Meeting
  • supervising the management of the LLL Group
  • keeping up-to-date on breastfeeding information
  • helping others find out about leadership and prepare to become LLL Leaders

Use the Checklist (LARK, Part 3: Leadership Skills and Attitudes) as your guide of what topics to discuss. These would include discussing Leaders’ knowledge and skills, such as active listening; avoiding mixing causes; preparing meetings; using LLL resources which offer the information a mother needs; managing a Group (including funding and use of funds, library, Group jobs, liability insurance, managing sensitive information); group dynamics; helping situations, etc. 

In addition to discussing the topics on the Checklist, you will need to complete the Preview (LARK, Part 5: Preview of Helping Questions and Group Management) with the Applicant. It can be worked on throughout the application or saved until the end, or a combination of both. You will be required to submit an evaluation report of the Preview when you have explored at least five helping questions and three Group management scenarios with the Applicant. Many Applicants and Leaders decide to do more.

Completing LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation
Applying for Leadership (LLLI PSR) describes precisely what the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation are. In order to complete them, Leader Applicants work on five parts which complement each other. These five parts involve some self-assessed learning, dialogue with a LAD representative and discussions with a supporting Leader.

    • Personal History of Breastfeeding and Mothering: The Leader Applicant tells her story related to the ten concepts. It leads to a discussion with a LAD representative about the Applicant’s understanding of LLL philosophy, and how it relates to her experiences. This is to satisfy the LLLI Criterion for Leader Accreditation that the Applicant “demonstrates understanding and practice of LLL philosophy.”
    • Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG):This includes several pages of self-directed learning about basic breastfeeding management and LLL resources. Completing the BRG is required to satisfy the Breastfeeding Management criteria.
    • Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership: These topics are discussed with a supporting Leader and satisfy the Leadership Skills criteria. 
    • Preview of Helping Questions and Group Management: The Applicant practices with a Leader or Leaders responding both to common questions  asked about breastfeeding and to comments that are apt to come up at a Series Meeting. This is done by telephone, email or in-person and relates to both the Leadership Skills and Breastfeeding Management criteria.
    • Background reading: This learning helps fulfill the Breastfeeding Management and Leadership Skills criteria.

Signing the Statement of Commitment

Keeping in contact with the Applicant’s LAD representative is essential since both of you have specific roles to play to make sure the new Leader has completed the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation before signing the Statement of Commitment. 

When the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation have been met and the Applicant feels ready to take on the responsibilities of LLL Leader, the next step is to sign the Statement of Commitment. This is the final step of the application and the first step of leadership. You can be proud of the work you and the Applicant have done. You have helped the accreditation of an LLL Leader. 

Working with a Leader Applicant can be an enriching experience for both you and the Applicant as you learn from each other. When you are closely involved in an Applicant’s preparation for leadership, it ensures steady progress of application work.  This keeps both of you motivated. Your dedicated work mentoring a future LLL Leader results in support to more breastfeeding mothers, parents and babies and a future co-Leader who starts LLL work with confidence and pleasure.

Laurence Kher lives near Paris, France. She has five children ages 30 to 20 and two grandchildren. Laurence has been a Leader since 1994 after meeting La Leche League in Washington, DC, USA, where her second child was born. Laurence joined the Leader Accreditation Department team to keep in touch with La Leche League (LLL) while being an isolated Leader.