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Many Paths to Leader Accreditation

Cindy Howard and Marcia Lutostanski
LLLI Board of Directors
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 44, No. 1, 2008, pp. 3-5

Building and increasing the LLLI volunteer network is one of the strategic objectives of the LLLI Strategic Plan with a goal of increasing the number of LLL Leaders by 20 percent over two years. Leaders are working with Applicants in a variety of ways to meet the needs of Applicants so that they become Leaders in a timely manner and are well prepared to help mothers and babies.

Strategic planning provides focus to organizations. Clarifying objectives and mission-driven accomplishments help assure continued success. The La Leche League International Strategic Plan provides a common direction for all LLL Leaders and staff working toward the future for LLLI. The Strategic Plan has five strategic objectives and measurable outcomes/goals are defined for each objective. Only through the actions of LLL Leaders and the LLLI office staff can this plan be fulfilled.

Leaders are our core resource. Building our Leader numbers -- by focusing on Leader retention and accreditation -- will help us in every aspect of our work. A 20 percent increase in Leaders will create new LLL Groups, strengthen existing Groups with more co-Leaders, and open additional possibilities for meeting the needs of mothers.

The success in meeting the measurable outcomes rests with individual Leaders who take an interest in some part of the Strategic Plan and then make small changes in their day-to-day work to focus on a strategic objective. For some Leaders increasing the volunteer network resonates with them and they have chosen to focus their energy on increasing the number of Leaders by devoting more effort to working with Applicants.

Every Application is Unique

Customizing the application to fit the individual Applicant's learning style is not a new idea in the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD). Did you know that some Applicants share their personal history orally, for example, by telephone or in person? Other Applicants work primarily online by chat or email. You might want to talk with each mother about how she likes to learn. Then arrange a three-way conversation between you, the mother, and the LAD representative about how to customize the application. An application that meets an Applicant's learning style helps keep the energy levels high for all participants.

Annette Botas-Rock is a Leader in a large, strong Group in Central Houston, Texas, USA. Her Group meets at The Women's Hospital of Texas and attracts a very diverse group of mothers. In the last three years this Group has had a minimum of two Applicants, and six members have become new Leaders in the past two years. They are expecting two more Applicants to complete the process for their accreditation early in 2008. These new Leaders and Applicants speak Spanish, German, Italian, Russian, Hebrew, and Bahasa Indonesian in addition to English. Having bilingual Leaders is very helpful in meeting the needs of mothers in a large city like Houston with many immigrants, foreign graduate students, and expatriates.

So how do they do it? The core of their success is their membership base. Without a good membership base it really is difficult to have Leader Applicant discussions. The Leaders notice which mothers regularly attend Group and Enrichment Meetings, have breastfed babies between eight to 10 months old, and have a general enthusiasm for La Leche League. Jean Nunnally, one of Annette's co-Leaders, built a strong tradition of identifying and encouraging Leader Applicants in the Group.

About a year ago the Leaders noticed that there were several women in the Group who made them think "these women may be interested in becoming Leaders." The Leaders offered an Applicant information session to the Group. At the information session, the Leaders shared LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation. That meeting led to four women becoming Leader Applicants.

Annette says that all co-Leaders are in agreement before any woman starts her application -- all feel comfortable about recommending the mother for Leadership. Sometimes a mother has a "touchy" issue and in that case the Leaders discuss it and consider whether the mother meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership and can and will help mothers and babies. This Group has found that since many mothers attending their meetings plan to return to work after the birth of their babies, Leaders who have some experience with working and breastfeeding and who have prioritized the needs of their babies can help mothers both deal with the mechanics of milk expression and also recognize their babies' need for mother's presence.

Usually one Leader is the designated sponsoring Leader and all the Group Leaders participate in supporting and encouraging the Applicants. In the past, Group Leaders encouraged Applicants to complete their application in a year; now Applicants are encouraged to complete the process in six to nine months. Moving a bit quicker seems to keep everyone motivated to finish. Applicants are encouraged to work together and they try to meet face-to-face every two to three weeks to discuss the >i?Checklist of Topics to Discuss in Preparation for LLL Leadership (Checklist) in the LEADER'S HANDBOOK. In addition to regular meetings, the Leaders may use the Community Network (CN) for discussion and the Applicants could have a Yahoo email list. Some Applicants appreciate having reading and writing assignments with deadlines. Without deadlines it's easy for other life events to take over. When a roadblock seems to be interfering with progress, a Leader will talk with the Applicant to help her figure out how to remove the roadblock. For example, a Leader will watch the Applicant's children for an hour while she reads or writes. Some women find that being a Leader and preparing for meetings actually takes less time and effort than writing their personal history.

Annette says writing can be a big problem. Some Applicants acknowledge that having to write everything will be challenging and require a lot of time. "We're leading meetings, not writing compositions," says Annette. Scheduled phone calls provide a great way to discuss topics, including the Breastfeeding Resource Guide (BRG). Providing alternatives to a written history is especially helpful when English is not the mother's first language. Correspondence with LAD representatives can take a lot of time and that time is increased significantly when Applicants are overly conscientious and want to present perfectly well-written letters. Some Applicants are extra careful to express themselves very clearly/perfectly because they are writing to someone they have never met.

Effective Communication is Key

Joan Peloso, Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (CLA), and Carol Saritsky, Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (ACLA) of Florida and the English-Speaking Islands, USA, have been conducting an email discussion group with Applicants, a sponsoring Leader, and some Area department Leaders. The idea is to encourage good communication amongst future co-Leaders and to foster awareness of Area personnel. They pose situations for discussion, invite comments, and keep track of which topics have been covered on the "Checklist." Some of these situations come from the Group dynamics section of the Preview of Mothers' Questions/Problems and Group Dynamics/Management (Preview). Joan feels encouraged that this method may work well with isolated Applicants.

Accreditation Link (AL) is an agreement-based mutually accountable network of Leaders whose purpose is to explore and refine diverse approaches through which Leader Applicants can become accredited, and to ensure that all such approaches are consistent with LLLI policies including the Criteria for Leader Accreditation. The Accreditation Link develops ideas for others to consider using.

AL has been exploring the benefits of using Appreciative Inquiry during the application time. Appreciative Inquiry is a technique of using open questions to focus on taking what is positive from the past into present work. Since we ask all Applicants to reflect on their mothering and breastfeeding experience and discuss what they hope to accomplish as Leaders, Appreciative Inquiry can be a useful tool. Appreciative Inquiry has proved to be a wonderful tool when working with mothers interested in Leadership as well as Leader Applicants. Rebecca Sato, Coordinator of Leader Accreditation for Future Areas in Asia and the Middle East, and Esme Nel, Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for Africa, Asia, and the Middle East, have worked together to create an appreciative version of the Request for Personal History. They are using this when corresponding with interested mothers and Leader Applicants. This way of asking questions has proved to be successful and has helped mothers not to feel judged, and enables them to share their experiences by focusing on the positive. Rebecca and Esme are noticing that mothers respond with a much more conversational style of writing. When issues have arisen that need further sensitive discussion, the open and honest groundwork begun by this approach has made difficult conversations easier.

Accreditation Link (AL) has been further developing a weekend work session that has been used in different ways by various Leader Accreditation Departments. The work session enables Applicants to work in an intensive and focused way over a weekend with LAD representative(s), Leaders, and other Applicants. Flexibility is built into the work session in that each Applicant chooses what to work on and when. A special feature is the opportunity to complete part or all of the personal history orally using appreciatively worded questions. Carroll Beckham, ACL of North Carolina, USA, is very enthusiastic about her experience with work sessions: She reports that while no one was hurried, each Applicant could make significant progress. Some were even able to sign their Statements of Commitment at the work session since the sponsoring Leader, Leader Applicant, and ACLA were all present and agreed.

AL has also used Appreciative Inquiry in the pre-application time as a tool for Leaders. Additionally, Sue Scott, ACLA for Taiwan residing in Oregon USA, has successfully combined the pre-application dialogue and the Personal History orally in work with a local Applicant. Janet Weidman, CLA of Oregon USA, has regularly and for several years offered Applicants the opportunity to attend frequent work sessions and the opportunity to complete all or part of the Personal History over the phone. Janet especially delights in the fact that several Leaders have been accredited who seemed to face obstacles with the traditional writing: one was dyslexic (a specific learning disability usually manifested as a difficulty with written language), one did not want to write to someone she didn't know, one was pregnant and unable to find time to write, and another worked better as part of a session than at home by herself. Janet stated, "We were happy to be able to meet the individual needs of these Leaders."

In diverse cultures and languages, work sessions have been a welcome addition to the LAD repertoire. Sophie Yang, ACLA for Taiwan, has used the oral approach there. The oral personal history was embraced in France as well. Currently, some AL members are discussing how better to meet the needs of Asian Applicants.

All who have offered work sessions and oral personal histories have reported positive evaluations from Leaders, Applicants and LAD representatives.

Sue Scott and Lynne Coates of Oregon, USA, and many other Leaders throughout the world, have combined the Breastfeeding Resource Guide, Checklist of Topics, communication skills training and the Preview for Applicants in their community. They used the Preview situations as a springboard for discussion of breastfeeding management (BRG) and an opportunity to practice Leader skills and attitudes (Checklist) while using and offering resources and information (Checklist and communication skills training).

The ability to connect with each other during the application time is greatly enhanced by modern mass communication. Yet it is still important to remember that each Applicant is unique in her experiences and attributes. Each also benefits from flexibility and adaptations during the application time. New tools, techniques, and ideas are available right now for Leaders and LAD representatives to help Applicants. Please use them wherever they are helpful and share your ideas and experiences with Leaders in the CN discussion Working with Applicants. Together we can ensure that LLLI reaches its goals of accrediting more Leaders. Hopefully this article provides some examples of ways to work with Leader Applicants that you will find useful and want to try with the Applicants in your Group. Your involvement is vital to increasing the number of Leaders. As Malcolm Gladwell described in The Tipping Point, huge changes can be implemented by merely refocusing efforts -- with little or no additional volunteer time or funding required. We know this is true for La Leche League.

Build/Increase Volunteer Network and Reach Currently Underserved Populations

  • Increase number of LLL members 25% over two years, to average of three members per Leader
  • Increase number of LLL Leaders 20% over two years
  • Document baseline for outreach activities to underserved populations
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