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Do You "C" What I "C"?

from LEAVEN, Vol. 32 No. 4, August-September 1996, pp. 53-4
by Betsy Liotus

A victory for any one part of LLL is a victory for all of LLL.

I've worked with the most extraordinary women in La Leche League. From my days as a Leader Applicant through my present employment at LLLI Headquarters, there has always been a Leader nearby to offer guidance and encouragement. I have benefited personally and professionally from such support and eagerly pass it on whenever possible.

Yet, along with these meaningful mentoring moments come some instances of utter anguish. At times, conflicts between Leaders working together seem to arise out of nowhere. It's amazing how women with so much in common can sometimes see things so differently! Our mutual devotion to LLL makes these conflicts all the more painful. It's easy to feel as though our right to belong is in question or our personal values are under attack. At this point, more is at stake than the issue at hand. As the conflict escalates, the odds of finding a resolution satisfactory to all decrease dramatically.

When this happens, I've heard Leaders say they feel wounded, weary and very much alone. I've felt that way myself; I know the anxiety and despair that creep in, take control and cloud perspective. Again and again I've asked myself: Does it have to be like this? Isn't there another way?

The Three Cs

It was at just such a low point in my commitment to LLL that I discovered a concept of nonprofit management known as the three Cs--Cause, Corporation and Community. Each C has its own function and boundaries that must be respected if an organization is to remain healthy and strong. According to Jim Dethmer, professional counselor and originator of the concept, most organizations have a natural inclination toward one or two of the three Cs; very few have a natural balance of all three.

Ideally, the three Cs maintain a dynamic but complementary tension among themselves that can create something greater than any one C alone. Unfortunately, there is a tendency toward competitiveness rather than collegiality. When competition lifts each to a level of excellence that would otherwise be difficult to achieve, much can be accomplished. When it goes too far, much is lost.

After learning about the three Cs, I used them to reflect on what I loved most about LLL, as well as what had led to such deep disillusionment. My enthusiasm for LLL returned. I believe the insights that emerged are worth sharing.

The Cause

The Cause is the powerful, pulsating "heart" of LLL. It's a commitment to the mother struggling in vain to get her baby latched on to the breast. At best, the Cause is a pure and passionate advocate for a baby's right to be breastfed; at worst, it is militant or judgmental, sometimes impeding rather than promoting its own agenda.

Here are the gatekeepers and guardians, often the first to detect that LLL's purpose or philosophy is in danger of compromise. They can be quite persistent in their efforts to correct such a problem. As a result, they tend to be dismissed as aggressive or outspoken--too crazy about the Cause to be objective. The truth is, LLL could not survive without them.

The Corporation

The Corporation is the cerebral or cognitive "mind" of LLL. Its commitment is to the same struggling mother, but it concentrates primarily on producing the accurate, up-to-date materials she needs to take home after the Group meeting. The Corporation is philosophy-informed but mission-oriented. At best, the Corporation is efficient and effective; at worst, it is unresponsive or disorganized, sometimes forgetful of the fact that it exists to serve rather than be served.

Here are the moneymakers, often the first to detect that LLL's financial health is in jeopardy. This perspective can distract them from less tangible issues. As a result, they tend to be dismissed as business-like or out of touch--too consumed by Corporate concerns to be good custodians of all that breastfeeding encompasses. The truth is, LLL could not survive without them.

The Community

In a typical nonprofit organization, it is common to find members who are drawn naturally to either the Cause or the Corporate expression of the work being done, each often demonstrating varying levels of exasperation with the other. Who stands between the two, preventing what so easily can become a power struggle? The Community--highly committed to and heavily involved in one or both of the other two areas, but distinctly different in many ways.

The Community is the "soul" of LLL. It takes a broad view, ensuring that organizational resources are divided strategically among LLL's purpose, philosophy and mission. In addition, the Community embodies the family or relational dimension. In LLL, it draws mothers in through the spirit of our work. It connects mothers to their babies, members to one another. At best, the Community is a loving mediator and solid source of wisdom: at worst, it is exclusive or divided, sometimes basing assumptions about the organization as a whole on what it sees and hears in its own backyard.

Here are the bridge-builders, often the first to discern a serious breakdown between the Cause and the Corporation. They absorb the strengths and weaknesses of the others and offer back equilibrium and stability. But the sorting and sifting required to do this well take time. As a result, they tend to be dismissed as passive or indecisive, too cautious to act quickly in a crisis. The truth is, LLL could not survive without them.

The Cornerstones--
Compassion, Cooperation, Communication

Maintaining a peak, organization-wide level of productivity demands that all three Cs--Cause, Corporation and Community--learn to appreciate and celebrate each other's contribution to the whole. Each needs to be willing to

  • create, through honesty and empathy, an atmosphere where differences can be resolved
  • integrate into its own agenda the needs and desires of the other two as much as possible and
  • discuss concerns and explore available options from a variety of viewpoints.

Human nature being what it is, conflict is inevitable. But it's not always bad. Conflict can lead to growth not likely to happen any other way. The spirit of submission to the whole and measure of accountability each group brings to this process means the difference between success and failure.

Confusion arises when it is not clear which C "hat" is being worn in any given encounter. "When this happens," Dethmer says, "feelings get hurt, missions are not accomplished and resources are squandered." One example of a Corporate Community breakdown occurred after a meeting with a printer whose work on a NEW BEGINNINGS cover was unsatisfactory. A Leader from out of town appeared at my office door and introduced herself. Still wearing my "Corporate hat," I extended my hand in greeting. As she shook it, her smile faded. I realized immediately that she had expected a much warmer, less formal "hello" from a fellow Leader. The moment was awkward for us both and it made me sad.

The Circle of LLLife

Interdependence is easier when we learn to recognize all three Cs working within LLL. For example, a dynamite, Cause-centered Series Meeting followed by a time of refreshment-filled Community is all that it could and should be when a Leader does not forget her Corporate responsibility to invite mothers to pay dues. In the same way, the World Walk for Breastfeeding is such a success because the Corporate need for funds is so connected to our Cause and relies heavily on the Community to carry it through. Finally, a District Workshop or Area Conference with a common Cause and adequate attention paid to the Corporate or financial realities involved strengthens its own efforts to gather its members together in Community.

Ideally, all three Cs are alive and well within every Leader. For example, my job in Publications includes the position of NEW BEGINNINGS Managing Editor. The Cause is the plumb line by which I measure the suitability of a particular story or article. After the copy is prepared, my attention shifts to more Corporate issues such as typesetting, ads, labels and postage. Later, feedback from the Community influences and sustains me as I prepare future issues.

The Challenge

Many business schools now teach that the old, hierarchical models of management are out, that a team-oriented approach is more effective. Supervisors are called coordinators; participative problem-solving replaces corporate mandates. This works well for women, many of whom tend to withdraw from power structures that devalue consensus and collaboration. As Carolyn Duff, author of When Women Work Together, says, "When opportunities for cooperation don't exist, many women resist contributing their best effort..."

Yet just as the old model tends toward control, the new leads easily to conformity. Duff points out that some women, in their desire to foster cooperation, discourage others from contributing challenging or divergent ideas. Others are denied the authority they need to do their jobs well, which cripples creativity and inhibits initiative. In addition, says Duff, "Too much cooperation can sometimes overwhelm the necessary focus on goals. [Women] can become so mired in discussing and evaluating that we risk never really getting anything done at all!"

Fortunately, there is a collective wisdom within LLL that is as empowering administratively as it is personally. This means that together the three Cs know more about what LLL needs than any one C could ever know alone. It takes courage to embrace this concept wholeheartedly, as well as an uncompromising commitment to stand or fall together. With these firmly in place, LLL's past, present and future are preserved and protected.

The Choice

It's been said that the gentle flutter of a butterfly's wings can be felt throughout the universe. If this is true, then the soft, sweet suckling of a babe at the breast may reverberate with a force that even we in LLL do not fully comprehend. Could the future of mother-to-mother support rest in part with our willingness to extend this support first to one another and only then to the rest of the world?

Perhaps the answer lies in the words to a song that I first heard in 1987 at the LLLI Conference in Chicago:

"Love in any language, straight from the heart,
Pulls us all together, never apart.
And once we learn to speak it, all the world will hear
Love in any language, fluently spoken here."

How Do You "C" Yourself?

Questions for discussion:

1. Which C best describes you as a Leader? Has that changed since you first became accredited? Why or why not?

2. What role have the three Cs played in your relationship with other Leaders?

3. What about "chameleons"? Are there Community-oriented Corporates? Cause-centered Corporates? Community-minded Causers? Is any Leader an equal blend of all three Cs all the time?

4. Has holding an Area Council, Division or other administrative position influenced your perspective on each of the three Cs? Has the position itself been affected by which C has the job?

5. How can the three Cs learn to trust each other more? What are the consequences for LLL when the trust factor is low? What kind of credibility is gained when it is high?


Dethmer J. Community cause, corporation (audio). South Barrington, Illinois: Seeds Resource center 1991.

Duff, C. When women work together. Berkeley: Conan Press 1993.

Kanter, R. When giants learn to dance. New York: Simon & Schuster 1989.

Katzenbach, J. and Douglas S. The wisdom of teams. Boston: Harvard Business School Press 1993.

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