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Lone Leading

Cyndi Sherar
Mahtomedi, Minnesota, USA
From: LEAVEN, January-February 1995, pp. 13-14

When I was accredited I became one of four Leaders in a strong and healthy Group. However, within six months I found myself the lone Leader of a different Group, a Group with low attendance and almost nothing in the treasury. Two years later, I have a wonderful co-Leader who moved into the community. The Group now has two Leader Applicants, 15-20 mothers who regularly attend meetings and a healthy treasury. We also enjoy a good relationship with our local hospital and WIC office.

My two years as lone Leader were not always easy and many times downright discouraging. But I learned to set priorities, delegate and invest my Leader time wisely. I also learned that there are many advantages to being a lone Leader.

A certain freedom comes with the sole decision-making authority in a Group. Deciding how fundraising money is spent, choosing books for the Group library, and setting meeting times and locations are simplified when there is only one Leader.

Storage space notwithstanding, a lone Leader has all the Information Sheets and Leader resources on hand. There is no need to call around to see who has specific information.

While Groups with more than one Leader find that mothers gravitate toward different Leaders, as lone Leader you get to know all the mothers who attend meetings. This makes for a very intimate Group and it is easy to work individual needs into meeting discussions. Although it is fun to co-lead meetings, you may find that as a lone Leader you develop a style that is comfortably yours. You set the tone for meetings. Longtime members know what to expect and can help direct meeting discussion.

On the other hand, a lone Leader faces challenges that need to be put into perspective.

One of the biggest challenges is the responsibility as sole La Leche League representative in your community. When a Leader is required at every event in which the Group takes part, from Series Meeting to fundraiser, a burden is placed on the Leader. She may plan family vacations around her La Leche Leage commitments and she knows the panic of having a sick child the day of the meeting.

When there is no co-Leader you are ultimately responsible for the management of the Group and all Group jobs. While you have the freedom of making all the decisions, there is no Leader with whom you can discuss ideas first. A lone Leader may find herself on the phone often when she is the only person Group workers can call with questions.

The responsibility of working with a Leader Applicant falls solely on the lone Leader. The Applicant does not have the advantage of observing a variety of leadership styles. Our goal of making leadership look attractive can be a challenge if the Leader arrives at meetings looking overworked or unprepared.

While the "downside" of lone leadership may seem intimidating--especially for the Leader who has had co-Leaders in the past--there are ways to prioritize, delegate, keep things in perspective and make it simple and fun.

First review the basic responsibilities of leadership listed in the NEW LEADER'S HANDBOOK (pages 3-4). Outside speaking and fundraising events are options to consider, not requirements. Know your limitations and consider the needs of your family. Don't hesitate to decline a request to do more if you feel you can't or shouldn't. Learning how to say "no" can be a gift to your Group, your family and yourself.

Invest the time it takes to get yourself organized. There are helpful books on the subject but set up a system that fits your needs and works for you. Keeping La Leche League materials in one place is essential. While I don't "index" La Leche League information (I envy Leaders who are that organized!), I do use file folders that make it easy to sort my materials: one file for each meeting topic, one for each Group job, and the remainder as I need--enrichment, loving guidance, Leader Applicants, meeting report forms, DA letters. If I don't know where to file something, I make a new folder!

Publicity is another good investment. The more mothers who attend meetings, the more mothers there are to help out. When I became a lone Leader, I was amazed at the willingness of Group members to help. They saw a need and came through! Share your needs with your Group. Most Group jobs can be done by someone other than the Leader. "Let go," delegate the job to someone else, check back from time to time but trust that it will get done. Like Leaders, mothers have their own styles. Things may not get done the way you would do them but they do get done.

Look for possible Leader Applicants on an ongoing basis. It is easy to over-look this responsibility of leadership when there are several Leaders or when things are running smoothly. Too often a Leader doesn't consider working with Leader Applicants until she is faced with the possibility of lone leadership or feels burned out. Preparing a mother for leadership is a process that takes time and, in fairness to everyone involved, should not be rushed. Like publicity, it is an investment that will pay off many times over.

Streamline your phone calls. It is not uncommon for a lone Leader to receive several helping calls a day. THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK keeps most information you will ever need right at your fingertips. While many mothers need a listening ear, some women call mainly for information. A good supply of Information Sheets saves time going over the basics. I seem to mail out information on milk supply and working and breastfeeding most often. Sometimes, in special cases, such as a mother considering adoptive nursing, I mail the information and suggest that she get back to me to discuss it further. While this is not the ideal, it is necessary to be realistic about the amount of time spent on the phone.

Another quick call is the mother asking for meeting information. I developed several Group publicity brochures and had my District Advisor (DA) review them. They list the meeting time and date and the services we offer. I just jot down the name and phone number of our hostess and mail it to the caller.

Fundraising is beneficial but can be time consuming. Weigh the amount of time spent against the money you expect to earn. After your DA reviews your ideas the details of the fundraiser can be handled by Group members. Our biggest fundraiser is a garage sale. For simplicity we post a sign saying, "All items 25¢ unless otherwise marked." We set every thing out the night before and post directional signs the next day. Each year we have earned more than $150--all from 25¢ items! A sign that states all proceeds benefit La Leche League prompts many people to make an outright donation.

A lone Leader needs to know her support system. Find out if there are Leaders on Reserve in your community. When an emergency arises the day of the meeting, such as a sick child, a Leader Reserve can often help out. An accurate phone log is essential to contacting mothers should a meeting need to be moved to another location or cancelled.

The DA is an important support for the lone Leader. She is more than someone to mail meeting reports to. She provides feedback ton your ideas and encouragement if things look discouraging.

Many lone Leaders also find it helpful to get involved at the Area level. Contact with other Leaders at Area Council Meetings can be revitalizing. Area jobs can be as involved as taking on a DA or ACLA position or as simple as coordinating a one time Area fundraiser. Attending an Area Conference or working on a conference committee is also a way to stay in touch. La Leche League offers one of the best support systems of any organization.

We are volunteers and this should be fun. Keep in mind the reason you became a La Leche League Leader, to help mothers breastfeed their babies. Lone Leader or not, we all do just that!

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