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Knowing Can Make a Difference

Nancy Spahr
LLLI Director, Leader Accreditation Department
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 6, December 2002 - January 2003, pp. 128-29.

Statistics show that, in each six-month reporting period, 10 percent of Leader Applicants discontinue their LLL leadership applications. That can amount to a lot of disappointment as well as the loss of a sizable investment of Leaders’ and mothers’ time, energy, and hope. To discover how we might avoid this unfortunate outcome, the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) has begun sending questionnaires to discontinuing Applicants and sponsoring Leaders. Some of the responses indicate that a clearer picture of a Leader’s role, the application work, and more Leader involvement during the application process could have made a difference. (Editor’s note: Look for an article from Nancy Spahr in the next Leaven about Leader involvement during the application process.)

Consider how this information might influence your work with Leader Applicants. For example, do you provide interested mothers with opportunities to learn about LLL and the Leader’s role and work? Before you write a recommendation, it is important to take the following into consideration.

Discuss the Prerequisites to Applying for LLL Leadership

Prior to initiating an application, it is important that both you and the mother feel confident that she has the base experiences and personal traits expected of a Leader. To prepare for this discussion you can consult Chapter 5 ("Helping Mothers Become Leaders") in the Leader’s Handbook. The LLLI Leader Application Packet—especially "In Preparation for an Application: Leader’s Guide" and Appendix 18 from the Policies and Standing Rules Notebook—can also be helpful in preparing.

Also consider these suggestions and ideas:

  • Invite the mother to assess her experience and attitudes in relation to each of the prerequisites. Does she understand them and recognize their importance?
  • Together look at each prerequisite and explore its facets. Explain the significance to the Leader, LLLI, and the public. For example, talk about how nine months of breastfeeding gives a potential Applicant experience with a wide range of mothering and breastfeeding situations. A Leader’s personal experience forms a basis for empathy, rapport, and credibility with the mothers she helps.
  • Compare how you and the mother understand each prerequisite. For example, you could discuss:
  • What needs are important to respect in a weaning situation? How might a baby show these needs?
  • Why is nursing at mother’s breast the optimal way to nourish, nurture, and comfort baby?
  • Why and in what ways does a baby need mother’s presence as well as her milk? What are some ways baby might demonstrate this need?
  • What are some examples of ways a mother would respond with sensitivity and respect to her baby’s need for her presence?
  • How does a Leader show warmth, empathy, and a respectful attitude toward others?
  • What kind of communication skills does a Leader need, and how does she develop and enhance them?
  • Working with a variety of examples can help the mother understand the role of experience and communication skills in a Leader’s work.

Do both of you feel certain that she meets the prerequisites? As you make your assessment, you are wise to check with your co-Leader(s) to see if they agree. If any of you have questions or uncertainties, you can consult with a Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative. A common understanding helps to ensure universal accreditation criteria so that mothers who contact LLL Leaders throughout the world can be confident of a certain basic breastfeeding experience, reliable information that reflects LLL’s breastfeeding/mothering philosophy, and an empathetic, respectful mother-to-mother approach.

Discuss LLL Philosophy

The concept statements summarize LLL philosophy as contained in The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding. Allow time to discuss each concept individually, even if you have done so on other occasions. The mother’s focus may be different this time, as she considers how she understands, agrees with, and provides a personal example of LLL philosophy in action.
Include these aspects and themes in your discussion:

  • Understand each concept individually. Chapter 5 in the Leader’s Handbook offers some discussion starters for each concept. Use them as starting points or develop others. How would the mother explain the concept to someone new to La Leche League?
  • Understand how the concepts relate to each other. For example, how do the concepts on mothering through breastfeeding, weaning, solids, and baby’s need for mother connect to loving guidance? How do the concepts on solids and good nutrition relate to human milk as the superior infant food?
  • Discuss mothering through breastfeeding as a practical philosophy. How has the mother found LLL philosophy workable in her life? Look at specific examples together. Do you see any differences with LLL philosophy? If so, stop, check your understandings with each other, and clarify, if necessary. Explain a Leader’s responsibility to both present and represent LLL philosophy and the importance (for LLL’s credibility) of words and action matching. Is the mother comfortable with this expectation and role?
  • Explain how Leaders present LLL philosophy and respect other philosophies and choices. Discuss how personal bias can interfere with effective communication and how awareness of her own biases can help a Leader to welcome all mothers and their ideas at the same time as she presents LLL philosophy.
  • Discuss the ways that Leaders and mothers present LLL philosophy at Series Meetings: Through the suggestions and ideas offered, passages quoted from LLL resources, experiences described, and examples in action.
  • Explore LLL philosophy in depth with the mother. This will help her evaluate whether it is the same as her personal philosophy and understand and appreciate its role in a Leader’s work.

Examine Leader Responsibilities

Most Leaders begin with the five basic responsibilities; explain to the mother what each entails. Do they describe the work she would like to do as a Leader? You can also include these aspects in your discussion:

  • Accountability: what is expected of a Leader and what she can expect from the organization; the importance and role of reporting and consultation.
  • Resources: the published, online, and people resources available to help a Leader.
  • Mother-to-mother help: what "mother-to-mother" means and how it guides the Leader’s approach.
  • Confidentiality: how and why a Leader keeps mothers’ personal and identifying information private.
  • Commitment: how a Leader balances her LLL work with family and other commitments in her life.

What does the mother want to accomplish as a Leader? Let her know that, as a basis for any work a Leader will do for LLL, the leadership application focuses on developing the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and approaches necessary to perform the basic responsibilities. Explore with the mother how her goals will fulfill LLL’s mission. With mutual agreement that the mother’s goals are compatible with LLL’s and that she is willing and able to keep her fees current, stay up-to-date with Leader education, communicate with the organization, and do the application work, you can proceed with an application.

Explain the Application Work

Using the "Overview of Training Curriculum for Leader Accreditation" from the Application Packet, talk with the mother about the parts of the application and their purposes. Show her what reading is required and the checklist of topics (see Chapter 5 in the Leader’s Handbook) you will discuss together. If you have copies of the "Breastfeeding Resource Guide" and "A Preview of Mothers’ Questions/ Problems and Group Dynamics/ Management" handy, you could show her these, too. Explain the application procedures and how she will work with the LAD representative. Assure her that both you and the LAD representative will be available to offer guidance and suggestions and to help as appropriate. Let her know that the two of you can help her develop a flexible plan to learn all she needs to know while continuing to meet the needs of her family.

The time and attention you give to pre-application discussions are wise investments. They can confirm your initial instincts that the mother could be a responsible, effective Leader. Now you are ready to write your recommendation with confidence and detail that will aid the LAD representative in her role. Now the candidate has a clear picture of LLL leadership, the application, and how she will reach her goals. She is well prepared to write her personal history and jump into a leadership application with energy and enthusiasm.

Nancy Spahr has been a La Leche League Leader for 25 years. She has three grown children, a teenager, and a breastfed granddaughter. Nancy currently serves as LLLI LAD Director. Deb Roberts is the Contributing Editor for "Preparing for Leadership." Send your ideas to Deb at: 86 Castle Ridge Court, Chanhassen, Minnesota, USA 55317, or robertsd at (email).

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