Cindy Garrison, Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, USA
Toshi Jolliffe, Heisdorf, Luxembourg
* Adapted from “When The Answer Is ‘No’” by Nancy Spahr and Trudy Hartt, Leaven, April-May 2000
Someone in your Group wants to apply for LLL leadership. You have observed and listened to what she says at meetings—and you have some concerns.
Following the steps in the Pre-Application Guidelines for Leaders from the Leader’s Pre-Application Packet, you discuss a Leader’s role, LLL philosophy, and how a Leader’s experience needs to reflect the philosophy. You use the LLLI Prerequisites for Leadership – Guidelines for Leaders from Appendix 18 of the LLLI Policies and Standing Rules to help structure your discussion. In the end, you just can’t picture this person as a Leader. How can you share your conclusion in a way that results in a positive outcome for both the mother and La Leche League? Options include:
One-to-one, when you need to say no:
- Make sure that your discussion is a dialogue, rather than a “verdict.”
- Give the mother time to react to your observations and respect silence.
- Ask for her assessment. For example, “Do you see the difference between your personal experience and LLL philosophy?”
- Give frequent empathetic responses to assure her that you are listening.
- Explain aspects of LLLI philosophy and refer to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding.
- Reassure the mother that her participation is important. An LLL Group provides a wide range of experiences. Knowing there are many ways to deal with a problem can be the most valuable part of the discussion.
- Talk about the likely consequences when words and actions differ.
- The action can give a stronger message and the Leader will lose credibility.
- When actions and words match, the message is more credible.
- Identify the mother’s feelings with her help. They may include disappointment, sadness, anger, indignation, or a combination of emotions. Acknowledge those feelings and respond with empathy.
- Avoid getting sidetracked to other issues. For instance, anything involving personality, what others have said or done, or what the role of LLL “should be” in the breastfeeding community is irrelevant.
- Use LLL resources such as Appendices 17 and 18 of the LLLI Policies and Standing Rules, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and the Leader’s Handbook.
- Focus on facts and the expectations of LLLI for Leaders.
Preparing for this discussion:
This kind of meeting is not easy. Prepare your approach and consider what you will say. For example:
- Am I sure that I can’t support the application?
- What information do I have? Is there still some information I should get from the mother?
If you’re not sure, you need to gather more information from the mother and/or a Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) representative before holding this meeting. Being certain can help you speak articulately and with confidence.
Set a time to meet with the mother as soon as possible.
- Waiting can increase anxiety—yours and hers.
- Look at this meeting as a bridge from your discussions about LLL leadership to your renewed working relationship.
Have the notes from your earlier discussion(s) handy. They provide an objective measure or support for your assessment, as well as something you both can look at. Reviewing what was said at your previous meeting can be a helpful way to start.
- Check the summary together. Is it accurate? Is it fair?
- Say what your assessment is and why.
- Be ready to repeat the earlier discussion if there is any misunderstanding.
- Take a break if you need time to think.
- Stop periodically to check emotions. Some of these phrases might be helpful:
“How do you feel about that?” “It looks like that caught you by surprise. Were you expecting something else? Tell me what you were expecting.” “Does that sound accurate?” “Did I hear you right?” “Is that a fair assessment?”
- “I” messages keep the emphasis on your assessment rather than laying blame: I don’t believe your experience meets the prerequisites.
Acknowledge the mother’s desire to help others with breastfeeding and identify this as her goal.
- Express your willingness to help her achieve that goal. This emphasizes your common interest.
- Review the different ways to help breastfeeding mothers and describe the differences in requirements, training, and time commitment.
- Ask yourself: How can I help her achieve her goal within LLL?
Tell the mother about appeals and give her the LLLI Leader Accreditation Appeals Policies and Process, Appendix 38 to LLLI Policies and Standing Rules.
Each situation is different. Discover what could be most helpful and develop your skills. You may want to ask a LAD representative for additional suggestions or a Communication Skills Instructor may be able to help you. You might want to practice role-play with your co-Leader or a LAD representative. How you approach this discussion can result in a positive outcome. Remember that a respectful attitude is important. Follow your plan and be open to modifying it as you go.
The vast majority of mothers who are interested in becoming LLL Leaders easily meet the prerequisites. We proceed immediately and happily with an application for leadership. We don’t have much experience with having to say, “I cannot recommend you.” Many Leaders may feel unprepared to do so. If you have experienced a positive outcome after talking with a mother who did not meet prerequisites, please let the Leader Accreditation Department know what you found most helpful. We can learn from each other.
Cindy Garrison currently serves as Advisor to the Leader Accreditation Department (LAD) Council, having previously been the Interim Director for LAD. Cindy has been a Leader since 1974. She has also held many other roles in LLLI, including serving on the LLLI Board of Directors, including three years as co-Chair. She lives with her husband in southwestern Pennsylvania, USA. They have three grown sons and seven grandchildren.
Toshi Jolliffe lives in Luxembourg with her Scottish husband, Michael, and their adult daughter, Kaori and her partner. They also have two sons: Hikaru works in Scotland and Seiji studies in Holland. Michael and Toshi met each other in Tokyo and moved to Luxembourg when they got married. Toshi organizes the only Japanese-speaking Group in Europe. She also serves as the LLLI Leader Accreditation Department Director and a reviewer for Leader Today.
 Editor’s note: Contact your local Leader Accreditation Department for the Leader’s Pre-Application Packet.