Co-Leading: Working Together Effectively
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 38 No. 4, August-September 2002 p. 81.
Good co-Leader relationships, as with all relationships, sometimes take a lot of time and work. What can we do to make co-leading successful?
In writing this article, I solicited input from a number of Leaders who felt that they had good working relationships with their current or former co-Leaders. They had a number of good ideas about what made their Groups run smoothly. These include good communication, division of labor that works for the individual Leaders, and problem-solving when needed.
Cynthia Wick, a Leader in Columbia, Maryland, USA, writes, “Here are my impressions: communication is key. This cannot be stressed enough. You have to talk to each other—talk honestly, and accept each other.” She continues, “You will be different and you must accept your differences from the beginning, concentrating on working together with your areas of agreement. If you disagree on LLL business, you must talk about it as early and as calmly as possible; always keep in mind that you share goals and are at least teammates.”
Her co-Leader, Alice Kolasny, adds, “We come to the rescue when the other blanks out, or we add more information that the other person knows but didn’t think of adding. We seem to do this seamlessly and it really works for us.
Neither of us ever feels
that the other has taken over the meeting or that our toes are being
Co-Leaders divide the work differently. Some find that having one Leader leading each meeting works best. Others lead every meeting together. Cynthia reports, “One Leader would only lead meetings during the summer, as she home-schooled during the rest of the year and told us she just didn’t have time. So the other three Leaders split up the September to May meetings, which worked out just fine.”
Linda Ruth Ciglen, a Leader in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, on the other hand, states, “We are both at every meeting. We divide up the meeting and take turns with the questions. Although it may look like more work, it doesn’t feel like it and is more fun. I would not like to be in a Group where the meeting responsibility rotates and I am solely responsible my month.”
A number of Leaders mentioned working well with co-Leaders despite, or maybe even because of how different they are. Maren Eliason of Norman, Oklahoma, USA writes, “Actually, I think our relationship was successful because of our different personalities. I’m pretty extroverted and she’s an introvert. Plus we both were fairly new Leaders so there was no ‘seniority’ in the relationship...we were both very accepting of differences in parenting as long as things were still within LLL philosophy—and we almost always agreed on most aspects of parenting. It was the right combination of differences and similarities, I think.”
Kathleen Whitfield, a Leader in Riverside, California, USA writes, “I realized that my co-Leader and I just ‘clicked’ at meetings, even though I was a move-in Leader and we hadn’t known each other for long. We don’t have much in common on the surface except for our La Leche League work, but get us together at a meeting, and something just happens and we play off each other better than I could have ever hoped.”
Leaders who continue to co-lead often find that they work together even better over time. Both Alice and Margi Grant (a Leader in San Diego, California, USA) say they work “seamlessly” with their respective co-Leaders. Donna Davis, from Chandler, Arizona, USA, feels the same way: “Over the years we worked together, Dianne and I developed an almost ‘telepathic’ communication during meetings. With just a glance, we could agree on how to approach a challenging situation or a distraught mother at a meeting.”
Of course, co-Leaders don’t always get along. In soliciting material for this article, I heard stories of co-Leaders upset over each other’s discipline of children to major disagreements about safety concerns for the meeting location. Finances are also an area that may be a source of disagreement. Leaders sometimes disagree about whether to use Group funds for Conference expenses or Library books. Many of these problems can be avoided altogether if Leaders talk about their expectations ahead of time. When co-Leaders do disagree, discussion can help resolve problems. (See “Unresolved Conflict” from Leaven Oct- Nov 1999 and “Difficult Conversations —or How to Disagree without Being Disagreeable” in this issue.) The District Advisor/Coordinator (or other support Leader) is available to help Group Leaders work through problems. A Communication Skills/Human Relations Enrichment Instructor may also be available to help Leaders find ways to discuss their differences respectfully. Sometimes, the only solution is for one or more co-Leaders to leave the Group, possibly joining another or starting a new Group. If this can be done without anger and placing blame, it will be less painful for everyone involved.
Everyone benefits from co-Leaders who work well together. As Cynthia writes, “I firmly believe that having co-Leaders who work together well enhances the experience of mothers accessing LLL, whether it be by telephone, email, in person, or at a meeting, as well as making it pleasurable for the co-Leaders involved, and thus more rewarding.”
Misty Dunn is Division Human Relations Coordinator for USWD. She has been an active Leader for 31 years. She has a family of six children and two grandchildren. In 2001, she retired from teaching so she could devote more time to LLL. In November, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer so she is now also actively advocating public awareness about ovarian cancer. This article originally appeared in the January/February 2002 issue of Connections Vol. 99 the USWD’s publication for LLL Area Personnel. Submissions for the “Helping Mothers” column may be sent to Nan Vollette, 132 Powhatan Pkwy, Hampton, VA 23661 USA, vollette at whro.net (email).