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The Responsibilities of Leadership: The Leader's Role in LLLI's Mission

Leslie Del Gigante
Associate Director, LAD
Westerville, Ohio USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 29, No. 4, July-August 1993, pp. 55-6

Picture: a woman breastfeeds her baby, keeps him close, learns how to mother him, and enthusiastically reaches out to help another woman find the joy, satisfaction, and benefits she has found. Sound familiar? Over and over again, this pattern continues through the ages. For the last 37 years, some of these mothers have reached out to help as La Leche League Leaders. Upon accreditation as a Leader, a woman brings her desire and dedication into a partnership with LLLI in its mission:

"To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and the mother."

The responsibilities of a Leader, as listed in Chapter 1 of THE NEW LEADER'S HANDBOOK (NLH), are the Leader's guide to her essential role in LLLI's mission:

1. Leaders plan and lead the Group's monthly Series Meeting. (See Chapter 3, NLH)

The Series Meeting provides the setting for mother-to-mother interaction and offers breastfeeding and parenting resources through the library, books for sale, and in the person of the Leader. The Group provides the mother an opportunity to have her questions answered, to meet other women who are experiencing the joys and challenges of breastfeeding and mothering--all in an environment that is respectful of her rights as a parent and sensitive to her individual needs. How to formulate birthing plans, how to nurse discreetly, how to talk with her health professional, how to improve her family's diet--these are just a few of the skills women bring home from LLL meetings, in addition to breastfeeding basics.

Many women from all over the world meet LLL through their local Group meetings. Their impressions of LLL are formed by their experiences with the local Group and Group Leader(s). When this impression is favorable, mothers want to learn more and become a part of our organization, and their purchase of memberships and books directly supports LLL and its mission.

We have the crucial responsibility to provide regular Series Meetings that are meaningful to the women who attend, attract them to return month after month, and create a positive image of La Leche League. Successful meetings don't just happen; they require preparation, punctuality, and attention to making each woman feel welcome as a valued participant. To be an official LLL meeting, the facilitator must be an LLL Leader and the basic content of the meeting must be based on THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING.

2. Leaders help mothers in one-on-one situations, by telephone or in person, keeping accurate records of these helping situations. (See Chapter 2, NLH)

The first half of LLLI's mission statement, "To help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education . . ." is accomplished each time a Leader anywhere in the world talks with a mother about breastfeeding. It's this mother-to-mother support that is the hallmark of our organization.

A Leader is available by phone or in person to mothers who ask for assistance. We relate to mothers not as professional to client, but as one mother to another. Rather than tell mothers what to do, we offer information and support, respecting the mother's right to make her own decisions. Good communication skills lay the groundwork for our beneficial relationship with a mother. Respect and confidentiality are essential. Once again, the mother meets LLL in the person of the Leader, and the opinion she forms of the Leader extends to LLL.

We must be aware of our limitations when helping mothers. A Leader does not give medical advice. We provide information and encourage mothers to talk openly with their healthcare professionals. We do not mix causes, nor do we offer counsel for problems outside the realm of LLL. The Leader's focus is the same as LLLI's--mothering through breastfeeding.

Leaders are obligated to keep written records of one-on-one helping situations for several reasons. Writing things down, especially in a set format, ensures that we have the basic information necessary to contact the mother again, to mail information to her, to draw an accurate picture of the mother's and baby's situation and help more effectively, and to provide documentation and legal protection.

3. Leaders keep up-to-date on all important breastfeeding information, taking advantage of LLL's opportunities for continuing education through publications, meetings, and correspondence, and the network of resource Leaders who are available to help with questions or problems.

In order to help mothers, we need up-to-date, accurate information. LLL provides this through publications, workshops, conferences, meetings, and a well-defined support structure. From Evaluation, Planning, and Chapter meetings to International Conferences, Area Leader Letters, and LEAVEN, it's our responsibility to take advantage of opportunities for continuing education on a regular basis. Leaders are required to keep current in order to provide mothers with the best information possible. It is our obligation to the mothers we help and to the organization we represent. When a question arises which is beyond our ability to answer, we are responsible for consulting with the appropriate support person. We owe ourselves the support and encouragement that learning together with other Leaders provides.

4. Leaders supervise the management of Groups, arrange for meetings, see that appropriate materials are available for sale, are responsible for the finances of the Group and see that accurate records are kept, inform the Area Coordinator of Leaders (usually through the District Advisor) about her LLL activities through written reports. (See Chapters 4, 5, NLH)

LLL is represented to the community by the Leader and through the Group. In order for the Group to be effective at reaching and helping mothers, and in order for LLL to be well represented, we have specific responsibilities relating to the management of the Group and the reporting of Group activities.

Mothers deserve access to regular Group meetings, to written information in the form of the LLL Group Library and books for sale, to information about the benefits of La Leche League membership, and to opportunities to help with the Group. The Group and its Leaders benefit from the assistance of Group members with the library, treasury, publicity, refreshments, etc.

Group Leaders work together for the benefit and effectiveness of the Group, and the credibility of LLL. Should a disagreement arise, we are expected to communicate respectfully with one another, seek help from our District Advisor (or Area Coordinator of Leaders) if necessary, and resolve the conflict as quickly as possible.

Since all business conducted by the Group is under the auspices of LLLI, LLLI requires that we report regularly to our Area Coordinator of Leaders (usually through the District Advisor) the specifics of Group meetings, extra meetings, community outreach, fundraising activities, etc. Special requests, like public speaking and media events, require prior contact with the ACL. As all money given to a Group in payment for membership, sales items, or as a donation, belongs to La Leche League, we must keep careful financial records and report when requested to the ACL.

5. Leaders take an active interest in helping other mothers find out about leadership and help them prepare to become LLL Leaders. (See Chapter 6, NLH.)

La Leche League is 37 years old because women have encouraged other women to pursue leadership. When we present leadership as attractive, available, and attainable, provide ample opportunities for women to learn about LLL, La Leche League philosophy, and leadership, and take the time to meet with interested women to discuss the prerequisites, requirements, and responsibilities of this volunteer job, we encourage qualified women to apply for leadership and advance LLLI's mission.

Completing the Leader Recommendation Form is the culmination of our discussions with an interested mother. When we can confidently and enthusiastically recommend a woman for leadership, "taking an active interest" takes on new meaning. Now the Applicant, Leader, and Leader Accreditation Department work together as a team as the Applicant prepares herself for leadership. We share our experience and materials with our future co-Leader and keep in contact with the Leader Accreditation Department.

With the accreditation of each new Leader, La Leche League's purpose and philosophy have yet another spokesperson. When each Leader fulfills her Leader responsibilities in her community, she accomplishes LLLI's mission on a local level. She also contributes to the credibility of the entire organization, enabling LLLI to earn the respect of the wider public. With recognition and respect come the opportunities for LLLI to "promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and the mother" and to influence breastfeeding-related policies around the world.

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