Finding and Supporting Leader Applicants Virtually

Alison Stanton, New Zealand; Edie Boxman, Israel; Mei Chin and Sarah Quigley, San Francisco, California, USA

This article is presented in three parts. Alison Stanton writes an overview of finding and supporting Leader Applicants virtually. Edie Boxman describes the experience of Leaders in LLL Israel and Mei Chin and Sarah Quigley share the experience of the San Francisco, USA LLL Group.

Part 1 Overview

La Leche League New Zealand like other La Leche League (LLL) entities around the globe has experienced major growth in the online area, and increasingly our contacts happen this way. So how do we identify a potential Leader Applicant from an LLL online Group? How do we work with someone interested in leadership who does not attend an in-person LLL Group?

In the last few years Applying for Leadership, formerly referred to as Appendix 18 and part of the LLL Policies and Standing Rules (PSR), has undergone numerous changes. A major one was combining the Personal Breastfeeding and Mothering Experience Prerequisites into one Personal Experience Prerequisites.

Personal Experience Prerequisites

The experiences of breastfeeding and mothering are two parts of a whole that is described by LLLI as “mothering through breastfeeding,” as defined below. This personal experience of the breastfeeding and mothering relationship, combined with what the person has learned from others and from LLL resources, provides a strong basis from which to help others. A potential Applicant:

  • has breastfed a child for 12 months or more,
  • did not introduce complementary foods or supplements until the baby demonstrated a nutritional need for other foods, around the middle of the first year for the healthy full-term baby, and
  • has chosen breastfeeding as the optimal way to nourish, nurture and comfort the baby.


In July 2019 changes to the Organizational Experience Prerequisites included “…has attended at least one series of meetings in person or via the Internet …” Therefore it is possible that a candidate for leadership has attended a series of LLL meetings online rather than in person.

As Leaders, one of our basic responsibilities is to inform, encourage and support mothers to leadership, whether we run in-person or online meetings. In either case we might observe a mother who could be a potential Applicant.

Over time a Leader running an online meeting will be able to observe a mother ’s contributions to the online discussion and their responses to others’ comments. The Leader could private message the individual to gauge their interest in leadership and, if so, begin to get to know the potential Applicant through FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet, or similar online chat groups. The Leader could provide them with the links to the LLLI Get Involved pages: Become a Leader; Prerequisites; Steps to Accreditation videos; and Frequently Asked Questions.

The Leader follows the same steps of a thorough pre-application dialogue to ensure the interested mother meets the prerequisites, but using a different medium than meeting in
person. Leader and potential Applicant meet over several sessions until the Leader feels confident to make a recommendation.

During the pre-application dialogue it is particularly important to help the candidate learn about LLL philosophy in depth. A thorough discussion will help the Leader and candidate see if the candidate meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership, if leadership is a good fit and if they share our philosophy of “mothering through breastfeeding.” Discuss Thinking about La Leche League Leadership? A web version of this document is available at

The volunteer commitment of a Leader is another important part of the pre-application dialogue. Some who express an interest in leadership may be looking for paid work and have not understood that La Leche League Leaders are volunteers. Sometimes potential Applicants are clearly looking to be IBCLCs (International Board Certified Lactation Consultants). Explain the difference between a La Leche League Leader and an IBCLC. Suggest they read The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, encourage them to become a member and provide them with the local Group information if there is one.

If you have concerns about a potential Applicant, contact your local Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative before writing a recommendation. A discussion early on can avoid disappointment or challenges with an application.

If you have a pre-application dialogue by phone or online video call (e.g., FaceTime, WhatsApp, Zoom) keep careful notes of the discussion, as this will help you to decide whether to support this application. When you are confident that the potential Applicant meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership, you can write the recommendation and ask the candidate to fill out the Application form. If the candidate is accepted as a Leader Applicant by the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) then you become the Applicant’s supporting Leader during the accreditation period.

As supporting Leader, you will need to discuss the topics on the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership (Checklist) and work on the Preview of Helping Questions and Group Management (Preview) with the Applicant. Sometimes the Applicant and the Leader can arrange to be together for all or part of the Preview. If requested by the Applicant you can help with the completion of the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG). You provide support and encouragement to keep them motivated. You work together with the Applicant by email, phone, online video calls (FaceTime, Zoom, Google Meet), or whatever contact works best in this case.

During the application period special attention needs to be given to attitude and approach. Model and explain mother-to-mother, peer-to-peer help. Discuss skills the Applicant
would observe if they were attending in-person Series Meetings and what they observe in the online LLL meetings.

Part 2 LLL Israel’s Experience

Edie Boxman reports on LLL Israel’s “virtual Applicant” initiative spearheaded by CLA Coral Weissbrod and ACLA Reut Erlinger.

From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, expanding virtual meetings to meet the needs of nursing mothers and families for support and information has been a priority for us in Israel, as it has been throughout LLL. We are pleased with the extent of our outreach. Leaders from around the country, most of whom are working together for the first time in a virtual group setting, cooperate to offer well-attended Zoom meetings on a variety of topics. Facebook and WhatsApp groups are increasingly active.

It took us several months to realize that we were not attracting new Applicants for LLL leadership. Clearly, we needed to find ways to encourage interest in leadership in the virtual environment. Person-to-person meetings seem a long way off and even then, virtual outreach will no doubt continue to be important.

Our LAD representatives initiated brainstorming sessions with Leaders who expressed an interest in finding new approaches to finding and supporting new Leaders. We shared our concerns. Will we really be able to see if leadership is a good fit for a potential Applicant when our only contact is virtual? Will Applicants maintain commitment when their only contact is virtual? How about mentor Leaders? Will intensive work with Applicants and potential Applicants overwhelm LAD staff?  We considered various approaches in view of these concerns and developed a plan.

We renewed, on our Facebook groups and various Group WhatsApp chats, generic descriptions of what a Leader does and an invitation to contact a LAD representative for further information. LAD representatives spoke to each of the 27 responders. Following this round, LAD staff sent 11 invites to a get acquainted Zoom meeting to those who expressed continued interest and to a few additional candidates referred by Leaders. The eight mothers who participated introduced themselves and described why they were interested in becoming Leaders. LAD staff explained the principle of “separating hats” (avoiding mixing causes), prerequisites, and obligations. They outlined the next steps in proceeding with an application: participation in at least four Group Zoom meetings and sending impressions to a designated LAD representative, following which, if both the potential Applicant and the LAD are comfortable about going ahead, a mentor Leader will be assigned. The mentor Leader will discuss LLL philosophy in more detail with the potential Applicant and will complete a Leader Recommendation.

We plan to offer virtual Communication Skills Workshops to the Leader Applicants and their mentor Leaders, with the participation of LAD staff. We will continue to invite all Applicants to Leader enrichment activities now taking place regularly via Zoom.

In an Area with 65 Leaders, eight new Applicants will be a real boost, and we think there is much more potential amongst mothers who actively and positively participate in our virtual meetings and social media groups. We were particularly encouraged by the diversity of those attending the first introductory potential Applicant meeting. Most were from locations where LLL presence is limited, i.e., outside Israel’s major population centers. We are advancing a parallel project to provide resources in Arabic, and hope that the two initiatives will finally result in LLL Leaders in the Israeli-Arab sector.

Part 3 The Experience of the LLL San Francisco, USA Group

Sarah Quigley share the experience of the San Francisco, California, USA LLL Group

The San Francisco Group has been hosting weekly Series Meetings virtually since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosting the meeting consistently and regularly provides opportunities to identify potential Leader Applicants. Similar to the in-person meetings, there are parents who regularly attend the virtual meetings, some of whom live in other cities and states. For those who consistently participate, the co-Leaders listen and observe how they parent their children during these meetings and how their comments align with LLL concepts and philosophy when they offer mother-to-mother support. It was easy to meet via video to do the pre-application dialogue with each potential Applicant, two of whom live in different cities and have connections with other nearby Groups. Leaders from those Groups were able to join the dialogue, further strengthening relationships and widening the circle of support for the Applicants. For mothers who have not yet breastfed their child for a year, we would ask if the mother would like to volunteer for a Group job, such as a greeter. Many parents are glad to contribute to LLL meetings in this way.

San Francisco currently supports three wonderful Applicants, and Leaders debrief with them after each meeting. Leaders discuss how the meeting went and ask the Applicants what they thought about the discussion. It’s been a great learning opportunity for everyone and an unexpected benefit of online meetings. This was not always possible after in-person meetings. Either Leaders chatted with attendees as they packed up, or Leaders were trying to transition to the next obligation and may not have had time to talk with Applicants.

We also meet monthly via online video with the Applicants to discuss how their leadership preparation is going and to complete the Checklist and the Preview. Finding a couple of hours each month to meet online has been so much easier than organizing in-person meetings. Of course, we miss the chance to see our children play together and to stay for another cup of tea, but the connections that we have made over the past few months are undeniable. LLL has been a lifeline for all of us as we navigate the stress and uncertainty of our current world.

Mei’s leadership journey:

When I made the decision and commitment to become a La Leche League (LLL) Leader, I never expected or imagined the journey I would take. When I started the application, my goal was to be accredited within a year. With that excitement, I started off completing many parts of the application and was well underway to meeting this personal goal. Then I stalled. I became pregnant with my second child and was nauseous throughout the pregnancy. Following the birth and arrival of this child, I took on a different role at work. As various life events pushed back my goal, there was disappointment and guilt. Despite these feelings, what kept me motivated and committed to completing my application was regularly attending in-person LLL San Francisco Group meetings and actively contributing to the Group’s Facebook page. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit California in mid-March 2020. This created a new set of challenges—to pivot with everything we do. As a working parent, I was now presented the challenge to meet the needs of my young children, and to continue to meet the demands of my job. The pandemic derailed all of my goals with the application, as I took a large step back with my participation in LLL and placed the application on the back burner. As my involvement with LLL waned, Lauren Allen, who was the Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (ACLA), continued to consistently reach out to me. Also, Sarah Quigley, my supporting Leader, would also check in with me regularly. She reassured me that she would be there for me when I was ready to continue. After pausing for six months, I started to attend virtual meetings and slowly, step-by-step, resumed and completed my Leader application. My interactions with Sarah were over the phone, via text, via email, or we met virtually.

Here is what I learned as a Leader Applicant during the pandemic:

  • Be supportive of Leader Applicants if they are unable to complete the requirements for accreditation. Recognize and empathize with life events that may be slowing down application work
  • Continue to check-in with them using the mode they are comfortable with.
    Look for other Leaders in your Area who can also support parts of the application, such as the Preview
  • Many parts of the application can be completed via correspondence
  • When Applicants feel overwhelmed but are still motivated, offer suggestions for dividing the application into achievable pieces. Allow them to come up with how they can complete the application and support them where they need it
  • If a Leader Applicant decides that LLL does not fit in their life at this time, let them know they can re-start the application when they’re ready within the next two years.

Finding and supporting Leader Applicants virtually involves careful observation of how mothers interact with their children and careful listening to how parents communicate with others on the virtual call. Once potential Applicants are identified, one-to-one communication can continue with potential Applicants via online chats, phone calls, email or texting.

Alison Stanton attended her first LLL meeting in 1978 in Aotearoa/New Zealand (NZ) and has been a Leader for over 30 years. Alison has enjoyed serving in her local area as a Workshop Coordinator and Communication Skills Tutor, and nationally as the Administrator of Communication Skills, LLLNZ Board member and LLLNZ Director. Currently Alison serves as LLLNZs Administrator of Leader Accreditation and as a member of the LAD Council. Alison and her husband, Denis, are blessed with seven adult children and nine mokopuna (grandchildren), the youngest being nine months old.

Edie Boxman has been a Leader in Israel for over 40 years. After leading Groups in Hebrew for most of her Leader career, currently she and several other Leaders in rotation co-lead a virtual country wide English-speaking group that has four wonderful Leader Applicants. She and her husband, Ray, have four adult children and ten grandchildren, eight years old and under, and are joyfully involved grandparents.

Mei Chin is a Leader of the LLL Group in San Francisco, California, USA since late October 2020. She has five years of breastfeeding experience, which includes nursing while pregnant and tandem nursing. She and her partner, Jonathan, are parents to Elizabeth and Ethan.

Sarah Quigley has been a Leader in San Francisco, California, USA, since 2010. She also serves as Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (CLA) for her Area of Northern California/Hawaii and Regional Administrators of Leader Accreditation (RALA) for LLL USA Leader Accreditation Department (LAD). Sarah and her husband, David, joyfully parent their two daughters. Charlotte is 13 and Katherine is 10.