Keeping Momentum during Leadership Preparation

Sarah Quigley, San Francisco, California, USA

The road to leadership reminds me a lot of driving in San Francisco, the hilly, densely populated city that I call home. It can be very pleasant and normally, I can get out of my quiet neighborhood with ease. As I make my way across the city, though, I maneuver past cars parked in my traffic lane, construction crews, and cyclists. Thanks to those famous hills, I often can’t see more than a block or two ahead, so I unknowingly drive right into a hot mess of traffic. Homer could have written a sequel to The Odyssey about my eternal quest for a parking spot. I tolerate the stops and starts, the detours and delays, because when I reach my destination, I’m rewarded with stunning views and friendly faces.

An application for leadership can follow a similarly winding path. It can take weeks or sometimes months to complete the pre-application dialogue and submit the Leader recommendation, application form, and fee. A Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative may follow up if there are questions about something you or the candidate for leadership has written. Finally, with everything in order, the candidate officially becomes a Leader Applicant and a LAD rep is assigned to work with the Applicant and supporting Leader. Many Applicants start by writing the personal history, working closely and dialoguing with the LAD representative.

Where to next?

At this point, some Leaders may feel as if they have driven into an unfamiliar neighborhood. Or they may feel as if their passenger (the Applicant) has hitched a ride with someone else (the LAD representative), and their help is no longer needed. Not so! The Applicant, supporting Leader, and LAD representative are all on the same journey, with the same destination—accreditation of a new LLL Leader.

Each application is flexible so that Leaders and Applicants can work together in ways that best fit their schedules and learning styles. The LAD supports both Leaders and Applicants and provides guidance around how to cover information and practice skills. The Applicant determines the pace of leadership preparation with supporting Leaders and LAD representatives adapting to the Applicant’s schedule. The downside of this flexibility, though, is that it is easy to get distracted or procrastinate. Having a road map or estimated time of arrival can really help Leaders and Applicants stay the course.

The LAD has developed some fantastic materials:

  • The Leader Applicant Resource Kit (LARK) includes all the documents an Applicant needs to complete the application.
  • A Leader Applicant Meeting Outline, developed by Natalie McMaster, a LAD representative in Canada, breaks down the required reading, Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG), the Preview of Mothers’ Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (Preview), and other resources into manageable chunks.

However, for a busy Leader or Applicant, informal mini-lessons and exercises may work best.

Having worked with dozens of Applicants and supporting Leaders over the past five years, I have seen how an application can either accelerate or get stuck in traffic. Many Applicants get off to an enthusiastic start by writing their personal history, and then it is common not to hear from them for several weeks or months. Sometimes they are steadily working on the required reading and BRG. Other times they have paused their leadership preparation for a short while to focus on other priorities. And in some cases, they are feeling lost and not quite sure what to tackle next. Ongoing Leader involvement can really help to keep the application moving forward.

Although the Preview and the Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership (Checklist) are the only parts of leadership preparation that require a Leader’s active involvement, the LAD encourages all Applicants and Leaders to meet on a regular basis. The Checklist can often be discussed over the course of a meeting or two. While Applicants are encouraged to work on the Preview throughout the application, some Applicants prefer to do the reading and BRG first to broaden their knowledge base. So what happens in between? How can Leaders support Applicants in other ways and help them keep a momentum toward accreditation?

Series Meetings

Series Meetings are one of the best learning tools for Leader Applicants. While they continue to attend meetings for support and community, Applicants can also get involved behind the scenes:

  • Have a quick check-in over email, phone, or text about the topic for the next meeting. Refer to the Leader’s Handbook or ask the Applicant for suggestions. Sometimes one question is enough to get a meeting started.
  • Make plans to discuss how the meeting went. Even a five minute conversation is valuable to get an Applicant thinking about how to create a welcoming atmosphere and keep meetings focused on breastfeeding related topics. This can also be done over email or via text.
  • For a more in-depth exploration of meeting dynamics, share the Listening Exercise (pdf) with the Applicant, and set up a time to talk about it after the meeting.
  • If you have a local Facebook group, Applicants could write an enthusiastic post after a meeting about something they learned or a way they felt supported. The post doubles as promotion for future meetings.
Personal Reflection
  • The Bias Exercise (pdf) is probably my favorite activity to do with an Applicant. I always emphasize that examining one’s biases is a lifelong process, and I share my own biases as I go through the exercise with Applicants. Setting aside an hour or two to talk about biases as they relate to leadership is time well spent!
  • An easy exercise to precede or follow a conversation about biases: ask the Applicant to notice and report back an example of a situation that triggers personal bias. The situation doesn’t have to relate to breastfeeding; the point is to get the Applicant practicing awareness around biases.
  • The 5 Whys is a method for understanding core values and root causes of problems. Starting out with a statement about a problem or something you don’t understand, ask “why” five times to get to the heart of the matter. For example:
    Cry-it-out sleep training methods make me sad.
    Why? Because when babies cry, they are trying to communicate. We shouldn’t ignore them.
    Why? Because babies depend on their caregivers to meet their needs. They should be able to trust their adults.
    Why? If they can’t trust their adults, they may not develop a secure attachment. That may create immediate and long-term problems.
    Why? Our early experiences affect us for the rest of our lives.
    Why? As humans, we are wired to expect that our caregivers will meet our needs.
Practicing Online

Reminder: Leader Applicant status should not be announced at LLL Series Meetings or on online forums.

  • Social media is THE communication method of choice for many parents these days, and it’s likely that Applicants you support are already active in online parenting forums. If your Group has an interactive Facebook group or other social media presence where parents can post questions, encourage Leader Applicants to take a look (or show it to them if they are not on social media). It’s also easy to join LLL online groups in nearby communities to see how they work. LLLI offers a closed Facebook groups for breastfeeding support.
  • Applicants can get their feet wet answering breastfeeding questions on social media. This practice complements and reinforces the information covered in the Breastfeeding Resource Guide, allowing Applicants to familiarize themselves with good online information sources. Ask Applicants to alert you when they have responded, and give them feedback and praise.
  • If Applicants are interested, you can ask for help monitoring posts on social media. Applicants can alert Leaders when posts do not follow group guidelines and discuss ways to address those issues.

An Applicant’s journey to leadership usually takes a few twists, turns, and may even stall for a short while. Regular meetings, periodic check-ins, and scheduled calls from you, the supporting Leader, will help the Applicant avoid the speed bump of procrastination. Give the “green light” to some fun activities and exercises along the way. Before you know it, you’ll have a new co-leader!

Photo courtesy Yocheved ‘Hedi’ Herrmann-Blanton, La Leche League, Santa Monica, CA USA

Photo courtesy

Yocheved ‘Hedi’ Herrmann-Blanton, La Leche League, Santa Monica, CA USA has shared a lovely picture from a Series Meeting. She explains:

My Series Meeting in the Los Angeles area attracts nursing students. In the photo a new mother latched her two-month-old baby for the first time without pain. She was very hot and stressed and the lovely students jumped up, gathered around her and started fanning her. I could not resist taking the picture.

Sarah Quigley is a second-generation LLL Leader, following in her mother’s footsteps. She has been a Leader for eight years and involved in LAD work for five years. Sarah grew up in a tiny town in Minnesota, USA, with three traffic lights, and was initially terrified of driving in San Francisco when she moved there in 2002. She is the Coordinator of Leader Accreditation for Northern California/Hawaii and a Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for U.S. West. Sarah and her husband are the proud parents of two delightful daughters, ages 10 and 7.