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There's No Such Thing as a Junior or Senior Leader

Kathy Grossman
Sandy UT USA
Cathy Harmon
Flower Mound TX USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 40 No. 4, August-September 2004, pp. 90-91.

I got a call recently that went something like this:

"Hello. I’m calling to speak to the Leader in charge."
"Hi, I’m a La Leche League Leader. My name’s Cathy."
"But are you the senior Leader?"

I paused and then explained that we are all equal—all co-Leaders. When I had answered the mother’s questions and hung up the phone, I paused again, thinking. There is no such thing as a "senior Leader"...or is there?

The truth is that all Leaders share equal responsibility within the Group. There are no "levels" of leadership. A newly accredited Leader is not a "junior" Leader, and a woman who has led meetings for 10 years is not a "senior" Leader. A Leader who moves into an Area does not have to get new accreditation from her new Area. She is an equal Leader immediately. All Leaders are absolutely equal. "Co-leading is a partnership; there is no junior or senior Leader" (LEADER'S HANDBOOK, p. 86).

Challenges to the Co-Leading Partnership

Yet, several things may give a false impression of hierarchy. Age, number of children, education, years of leadership, or an Area or Division position may suggest that certain Leaders have more status than other Leaders.

Being the Listed Leader may also be misconstrued by some as bestowing higher status within a Group. In reality, the Listed Leader designation is purely administrative. The LLLI Directory Change Form states that the LLLI Master Directory lists only one Leader per Group. "The Listed Leader is the official contact person for the Group." (Leader’s Handbook, p. 88) For convenience, she receives mailings and announcements, which she is then responsible for distributing. The Listed Leader is equal to all other Group Leaders.

However, even when Leaders know they are all equal, the behavior of Leaders within a Group or Chapter does not always reflect that equality.

A Leader who started the Group or who has been leading for many years is sometimes perceived as the "Leader in charge." One Leader may have strong opinions or she may be more vocal or outgoing. One Leader may do most of the speaking at Series Meetings or be the one who launches or vetoes fundraisers.

A less experienced Leader may be intimidated and feel reluctant to question such a confident attitude. Other Leaders may defer to the more experienced Leader, asking her, for example, to handle the difficult helping calls, depending on her to solve Group management challenges, and giving her more—or all—of the Group’s funds to attend Conferences. Although an experienced Leader has much to offer a Group and other Leaders, she is equal to the Leader who was accredited yesterday. "Each Leader has unique interests, talents, energy levels, and family situations. Leaders, mothers, and the Group benefit when co-Leaders appreciate these differences and work together…." (LEADER'S HANDBOOK, p. 87)

Respecting New Leaders

To understand how different levels of experience are handled and respected in your Group, Chapter, and Area, the following are some questions—based on comments from Leaders—that you may want to consider. Reference pages in the 2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK are listed in parentheses.

  • Can a new Leader immediately speak for LLL? Yes. (pp. 89 and 148-149)
  • Does a new Leader have to lead for a year before working with a Leader Applicant? No. (pp. 138 and 221)
  • Does a new Leader need to lead with her sponsoring Group before she can start a new Group? No. (pp. 125)
  • Does a new Leader owe her sponsoring Leader a year of service in the sponsoring Group? No. (pp. 125)
  • Is the Leader with the most experience always the Listed Leader? No. (pp. 88)

Maintaining Equality

If you find that Leaders in your Group, Chapter, or Area are struggling with issues of leadership equality, we offer the following suggestions.

For more experienced Leaders:

  • Be open to co-Leaders forming new bonds. Best friends are great to work with, but beware of exclusivity or cliques. Beware of the impression of exclusivity or cliques. Include all Leaders in decisions and discussions.
  • Communicate with everyone. Find the communication method that works best for all of you: face-to-face meetings, phone calls, individual emails, or email groups. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. Experiment with what is most comfortable and sustainable for all of the Leaders in the Group.
  • Share a job or pass it on. Experienced Leaders sometimes keep the same job for long periods of time. Share, share, share! It is refreshing to have someone else carry the Library or be responsible for bookkeeping. Besides, new Leaders become experienced by actively doing, not by watching.
  • Talk less. At Series Meetings, purposely "sit on your hands," schedule skipping a meeting, or pretend to yourself that you have laryngitis during a meeting discussion. Press your imaginary mute button when a mother asks a newer Leader a question you’ve answered many times!
  • Reread "Managing the LLL Group," Chapter 4 in the 2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK (pp. 81-134), to update or perhaps correct some of your assumptions or ideas.

For less experienced Leaders:

  • Speak up! If you worry that you are in a junior relationship, speak up simply and directly about the situation. For instance, state the facts in a straightforward manner, "I am attending the Conference also, and I think the travel money should be split evenly among the four of us." Or, if you’re repeatedly pointed out as "our newest Leader," explain privately how you’d prefer to be introduced.
  • Challenge yourself to take on a new job. It may frighten you a bit, but you can change the dynamics of inequality. Introduce a change by saying something such as, "I would enjoy the challenge of handling the Treasury and completing the Annual Group Financial report. Let’s meet at my house next Tuesday to transfer records." And then meet your new challenge!
  • Become the Group’s Listed Leader. The Listed Leader is the contact person between LLLI and the Group. Many Groups have found it helpful to ask the newly accredited Leader to take this on. She is immediately in the communication loop and interacting with co-Leaders as a peer.
  • Reread "Managing the LLL Group" in the 2003 LEADER'S HANDBOOK to dispel any misconceptions you have or clear up any confusing remarks from other Leaders.

Let Every Leader Shine

Your Group may be holding back less experienced Leaders. "No opportunity for growth" and "feeling excluded" are listed (LEADER'S HANDBOOK, p. 94) as common reasons volunteers quit. More experienced Leaders may be holding onto too many Group responsibilities and wearing down. Not enough fun and burn out are other reasons volunteers give up. "Remember that everybody wants to be appreciated for her time and effort" (LEADER'S HANDBOOK, p. 130).

Confront these challenges of sharing leadership, and let all of the Leaders in your Group shine. Demonstrate your respect for your co-Leaders’ different skills and various levels of experience. Let your actions show that there really is no such thing as a junior or senior Leader.

Recognize, Respect, Rejoice, and Relax in Our Differences

Recognize that no two people are alike; there will be differences between Leaders even though we have a common bond of mothering through breastfeeding.

Respect a co-Leader’s differences, much like you respect your newborn’s need to nurse "again" or your toddler’s need to still be a nursling.

Rejoice and be thankful that your co-Leader is a detail person, has a creative flair, is an energetic saleswoman, or is naturally empathetic. Let her strengths shine!

Relax about Leader diversity. Different does not mean wrong. Three Leaders might handle the same phone helping call a little differently, and each can be correct. A question posed at a Series Meeting will elicit different points from different Leaders. A rainbow is beautiful because of its variety of colors.

Cathy Harmon has been a Leader for 15 years. She and her husband, Willy, have two sons, Clint (17) and "Boomer," (9). She was Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation, has spoken at and worked on Area Conferences, and is currently the Area Coordinator of Communications for LLL of Texas. One of her favorite rewards of leadership is co-leading with so many fascinating, strong, resourceful, diverse women! Kathy Grossman, accredited in 1985, has led with Groups in seven different Areas across North America. She is also the Leaven cartoonist and always puts her LLL friends’ and co-Leaders’ names into her creations. She will be moving with her family from Utah to the United Arab Emirates this summer. Brandel D. Falk is Contributing Editor for this column

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