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Fresh Approaches to the Personal History

Alison Parkes
Director, LLLI Leader Accreditation Department
From: Leaven, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2008, pp. 8-9

When you think back to your preparation for leadership, how did you communicate with your Associate/Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (A/CLA)? Chances are that it was through written dialogue -- and for many of us, it was via postal mail; this is the experience for some of today's Applicants too. Others are taking advantage of changes in technology and new ideas about how to make the most of the array of skills and preferred working styles which Applicants, Leaders and Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representatives possess. Sometimes there is confusion about what the personal history involves, and this article attempts to address this. It then goes on to describe some of the ways in which options for personal history dialogue with a LAD representative are changing, ways that sometimes closely involve the work of supporting Leaders.

At its best, the personal history offers Leader Applicants a golden opportunity to affirm their profound experiences of breastfeeding and mothering and to commit to La Leche League, the organization that gives voice to a philosophy they share. The personal history is an unfolding, revealing, voyage of discovery as an Applicant reflects on her experience, interweaving her understanding of LLL philosophy with the strands of her own deeply felt knowledge. The personal history strengthens the bonds with LLL as Applicants learn how closely their experience and their values reflect LLL philosophy, thus deepening their commitment to the organization they will represent.

The Associate/Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (A/CLA) has a crucial role in this process, using her skills to broaden and deepen the Applicant's understanding of LLL philosophy and the role of the Leader. LLL is an international organization, with international standards for application and accreditation of its Leaders. Because the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) is an international department, we can ensure that personal history dialogue is based on a universal interpretation of those standards, regardless of the location of the Applicant's Group. In other words, being a Leader means the same thing the world over. The LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation are provided in Appendix 18 of the Policies and Standing Rules Notebook, reprinted in the Leader's Handbook (2003 edition), pp. 220-221.

So what is the Personal History?

The term "personal history" tends to be used in two ways: it refers to the story told by an Applicant about her breastfeeding and mothering experience in relation to each of the LLL concepts; it also refers to the dialogue between the Applicant and the LAD representative. There are two main goals to this dialogue: (i) to match a mother's ideas and experience to the criteria for accreditation and (ii) to see how we can help the Applicant to develop the understanding, skills, and information base she will need as an LLL Leader. Clearly the personal history "dialogue" is a great deal more than simply "listening" to a mother's story.

The Applicant has already met the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership; the LAD representative's role is to affirm the Applicant's experience and understanding of LLL philosophy and to facilitate her learning from them in order to meet the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation.

The LAD representative dialogues with the Applicant to explore:

  • How her experiences illustrate her understanding of LLL philosophy.
  • How she might use her experiences when she is helping others.
  • How LLLI philosophy might be interpreted and/or used in other ways by potential Applicants, or other Leaders.

In this way, it will become clear that the Applicant meets the criterion: "She has demonstrated understanding of LLLI philosophy." We also discuss how she might present the concepts to others (for example, at Series Meetings) while showing respect for different beliefs and choices.

Through dialogue, the LAD representative can help to extend the Applicant's knowledge and understanding of situations that she has not personally experienced, but which she may meet as a Leader (e.g., early weaning, different philosophies of mothering or childbirth choices). In this way, she prepares to meet the fourth of the LLLI Criteria for Leader Accreditation: "She has conveyed her knowledge of basic breastfeeding management, outlined in Breastfeeding Management Skills Criteria."

The second goal of the personal history, "to see how we can help the Applicant to develop the understanding, skills, and information base she will need as an LLL Leader," requires the Applicant to learn from outside her personal experience. The LAD representative can suggest particular background reading to extend an Applicant's knowledge or understanding, based on the "story" the Applicant has shared of her breastfeeding and mothering experience.

As the personal history progresses, the LAD representative introduces application exercises on a range of topics, such as mixing causes, personal bias, and communication skills. These help to broaden the Applicant's knowledge and understanding of LLL beyond her immediate Group and Area, thus helping her to meet the fifth criterion: "She has demonstrated leadership skills and attitudes, outlined in Leadership Skills Criteria."

What the Personal History is not:

The personal history is not the same as pre-application dialogue, which is between a Leader and a mother thinking about leadership. The goals of pre-application dialogue are very different, serving to ensure that the mother learns what leadership entails, what to expect from application work, and the prerequisites she must meet in order to apply; similarly pre-application dialogue enables the recommending Leader (with LAD's support where appropriate) to ensure that the interested mother meets the LLLI Prerequisites to Applying for Leadership.

However, pre-application dialogue can sometimes form the basis of the personal history, if an adequate written record, possibly in note form, is taken and passed on to the LAD representative, so that she can make use of it as a starting point for dialogue.

There have been several versions of the personal history in the past. Early versions were in five parts and invited an Applicant to describe in some detail her experience separately from her discussion of each concept. The current version has just three parts: About You; About Breastfeeding, Mothering, and LLL Philosophy; and Background Reading. This avoids repetition by combining the Applicant's discussion of her experience with her understanding of LLL philosophy. Another version, inspired by Appreciative Inquiry, has added some refreshingly different questions to stimulate an Applicant's deepest responses.

Fresh Approaches to the Personal History

For many Applicants, writing down their personal history, or using email, gives them the opportunity to reflect on their understanding and experience of breastfeeding and mothering and how these relate to LLL philosophy. They can also take advantage of moments of spare time that might happen unexpectedly, or late at night. Other Applicants are finding alternative ways of expressing themselves, such as through oral personal history dialogue as described in the list below. Sometimes an Applicant has a burning desire for an oral submission; sometimes it can be satisfying, and motivational, for the Applicant to complete other application work first before offering oral personal history dialogue. If oral dialogue is offered, it is nevertheless essential that the A/CLA keep a written record of what she and the Applicant have discussed; this is to safeguard against such events as an Applicant moving to a new Area, or an application being discontinued and restarted later with a different LAD representative, or an A/CLA retiring and being unable to continue supporting an Applicant.

If you are a Leader Applicant, or if you are a Leader currently talking about leadership with an interested mother or supporting a Leader Applicant, consider whether any of the following pre-application or personal history options might be useful strategies for you:

  • Pre-application dialogue (for more information see Thinking About LLL Leadership? Leader's Guide at can form the basis of the personal history;* notes from this dialogue may be enough to initiate dialogue with the A/CLA;
  • Applicants can communicate the personal history as a single "story" all at once;
  • Applicants can communicate the personal history in smaller "chunks"; the Leader Applicant Web pages at html provide the Personal History as an online exercise for Applicants to complete and send in sections to the A/CLA;
  • The Personal History using Appreciative Inquiry at History-AppreciativeInquiry.doc is a resource that can also be used for pre-application dialogue;*
  • Applicants and LAD representatives are using oral personal history dialogue at workshops and as "work sessions";*
  • Leaders other than the recommending Leader can expedite applications by taking a written record of the Applicant's history -- to be forwarded to the A/CLA for further dialogue; in South Africa these Leaders are called "Link Leaders";
  • LAD representatives are realizing that in some cases oral personal history dialogue can help an Applicant get over a sticking point in her application; in other words, A/CLAs are becoming more flexible in doing oral dialogue as part, if not all, of personal history work;
  • Applicants can record their personal history as a "mind map" or spider diagram, providing a written record to which the A/CLA can respond (this could be helpful during pre-application dialogue, too; ask your A/CLA if you want information about this).
  • Applicants can use online communications systems such as instant messaging (IM), voice over Internet protocols (VOIP) such as Skype, which may include a webcam; others may produce a podcast of their personal history (ask your A/CLA to send you "Using Online Communication Systems for the Personal History," LAD Lifeline 2008, Issue 2).

Other ideas are starting to emerge that will add to the range of ways in which the personal history can be adapted to suit individual preferences of an Applicant, while ensuring that accreditation criteria are met. Fresh approaches ensure that preparing for leadership will continue to be a joyful experience for every Leader Applicant.

*It is necessary to provide a written record to the A/CLA

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