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Working as Co-Leaders at Series Meetings

by Laura Cunningham
Mission Viejo, California, USA
from LEAVEN, Vol. 31 No. 4, July - August 1995, pp. 57-58

Every Leader has a unique style when it comes to leading meetings. Some enjoy word games or puzzles to introduce information; some are particularly creative with visual aids; some lead guided discussions with the ease of a friendly conversation. Leaders also differ in the meeting tone-some preferring a more structured, controlled approach while others are quite happy with an informal flow of topics and information. Although Leaders are bound to differ from time to time, acceptance of differences and effective communication are key to co-leading meetings and avoiding conflict.

Different types of meetings within a series are more likely to offer something for everyone, broadening LLL's appeal. "Diversity is one of our great strengths," writes Kathy Triick, ALLE for LLL of Wisconsin, USA, in Badger Briefs (Winter 1994-95). "It demonstrates to mothers who come to us for help that there is no one set pattern to living with LLL philosophy; that can make her feel more comfortable as she seeks to apply what she learns to her own life."

Many Leaders have found that as long as they practice good communication skills with co-Leaders, their differences can be complementary. But Leaders must talk to each other to decide how to divide meeting responsibilities and evaluate the meetings.

Sophia Sayigh of Arlington, Massachusetts, USA, recognizes how differences can be strengths when communication is present.

Before we became mothers, Nancy was in sales and I was a librarian. She is marvelous with off-the-cuff remarks; I have a knack for remembering a fact. She is energized by rehashing the Series Meeting right away; I have more insight if I sit with it a while. Regardless of when our discussion takes place, I'm convinced that our success in co-leading is firmly founded on open communication with each other during and between meetings.

There probably are as many ways to divide meeting responsibilities as there are co-Leaders, but the best approach is for every Leader to participate in each meeting in some way. The LEADER'S HANDBOOK states that "enthusiasm tends to stay highest" when all Leaders participate.

For several years, Sophia and Nancy have preferred to split the responsibility for each meeting in half, giving each Leader a turn at the role of active Leader and support Leader. One does the introduction and leads the formal discussion and wrap-up; the other talks about membership and leads the round robin of mothers' questions.

Other Leaders prefer to be responsible for the entire meeting and rotate that responsibility among co-Leaders. Patty Allen of Scituate, Massachusetts shares leading meetings with two co-Leaders.

One thing we do that has worked well, is choose which meetings each of us will lead at the start of the year. We do not each lead a full series. We find that only having to prepare for one meeting every three months helps, now that our children are older and our schedules are getting more complicated. We also switch with each other if something important comes up. We almost always are together for each meeting, but this seems to make it seem a little less stressful, not having to plan four meetings in a row.

The LEADER'S HANDBOOK suggests other ways to share meeting responsibilities:

  • Dividing the meeting topic into two parts with each Leader being responsible for one part. For instance, at Meeting 1, Leader A could lead a discussion on the advantages of breastfeeding to baby and Leader B could address the advantages to mother.
  • A co-Leader can be in charge of refreshments or memberships or other tasks that have not been delegated to a Group worker.
  • The Leader who did not lead the Series Meeting may lead the Evaluation Meeting. She may be able to offer some constructive suggestions gained from her more objective perspective.

Experienced co-Leaders appreciate the value of having a supportive Leader present who is able to step back from the discussion and monitor the mothers' reactions. Some Leaders establish a system of signals to help each other recognize when a mother seems to be feeling uncomfortable, confused or isolated. A signal can quietly steer the discussion back on track or help keep within the meeting time frame.

Patty Allen says eye contact with her co-Leaders during meetings has become very important. "We have learned to watch each other and try to notice if the subject is slipping out of our topic area. If I get into trouble I will ask my co-Leader a question that perhaps will lead the conversation gently in another direction or bring up a subject that we need to discuss."

When Sophia Sayigh is in the supporting Leader role, she focuses her attention on her co-Leader, hoping that mothers will follow her example. "I also keep my antennae out for a mother whose needs may not have been addressed," says Sophia. "At times we use body language to communicate with each other. For example, eye contact, a tilt of the head, or reaching for a resource does the trick when we feel something needs follow-up. At other times a direct comment is just the thing."

Writing in Yankee Wellspring (March 1993), Susan Van Meter, ALLE for Massachusetts/Rhode Island/Vermont, USA, says, "Occasionally, I've been frustrated when a meeting seems to be getting away from me because small groups are starting to talk among themselves or people are wandering away in alarming numbers to the kitchen. One well-placed comment from a co-Leader can bring back the cohesiveness that was lacking!" Susan also appreciates her co-Leaders ability to help mothers take care of toddler situations, help preschoolers with snacks in the kitchen, or step in and make wonderful clarifying statements.

Acceptance requires a co-Leader to put personal preferences aside and allow the Leader in charge of a meeting to choose the tone and structure that suit her. Effective communication requires co-Leaders to speak honestly and fairly as well as avoid conflicts or resolve those that arise.

As a District Coordinator in the Massachusetts/Rhode Island/Vermont Area, Margaret Mannke has been called upon to assist in conflict resolution and has found that "communication-or lack thereof-is always at the root of the problem." When Leaders fail to share information with each other, confusion, frustration and hurt feelings result. Sometimes, Margaret says, a Leader may not "have a clue" that a problem exists until communication is established. Resolution is achieved when all Leaders can express their feelings and state their needs. "The most important thing is to be open and honest about your feelings, but in a nonthreatening way.

A District Advisor, District Coordinator or Human Relations Enrichment Instructor can help Leaders find a way to present a problem to a co-Leader in a positive way. "Start with empathetic listening," writes Sandy Larsen, HREI, in Arkansas/Oklahoma, USA's HeartLine (Spring/Summer 1993). She opens the discussion with,

"How did you feel about...?" or

"I felt uncomfortable with the way such and such went today during the meeting. How did you feel about that?"

By concentrating on hearing the other person's feelings before sharing her own, the Leader will show that she cares and that she values her co-Leader's help in solving the problem.

"Next, share your concerns," Sandy advises, "by explaining your feelings in a way that does not label your colleague in a negative way.

"I feel dissatisfied with the way that turned out, and I'm hoping we can explore some alternatives."

If the co-Leader does not perceive the problem, a Leader can recognize that the problem is her own and state that she needs the co-Leader's help solving her problem.

"I understand that such and such seemed fine to you. but I really feel uneasy when that happens. Could we explore alternatives together?"

Sometimes, even after the best efforts, co-Leaders may have to agree to disagree. Although "it's great when Leaders enjoy each other's company and are friends outside of LLL, it's not essential," says Margaret Mannke. By keeping our goal of providing information and support to breastfeeding mothers in mind and using effective communication, Leaders can accept - even celebrate - differences.

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