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Helping Leader Applicants: Problem-Solving Approaches

Nancy Spahr
Peru Indiana USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 3, June-July 1998, p. 52.

Problem: The Leader Applicant in your Group dominated the discussion at the last two meetings with her own breastfeeding and parenting challenges (a baby with allergies, a biting toddler and a mother-in-law who is critical of her parenting choices).

Problem: A Leader Applicant who has moved into your Group interrupts mothers, speaks in an authoritative way and contradicts what you and your co-Leader say at meetings.

Helping Applicants become Leaders is a basic responsibility of leadership—one you take seriously. You see some attitudes or behaviors that are not appropriate for LLL Leaders. You know that ignoring them and hoping that the Applicant will figure things out on her own are not likely to work. Situations like these can be among the most challenging a Leader will encounter. What to do?

Happily, you need not tackle the problem alone. The Associate/Coordinator of Leader Accreditation (A/CLA) who is working with you and the Leader Applicant is interested and eager to help. Your first step could be to describe the problem and begin to design a plan to work toward a solution. You might proceed something like this:

Define the Problem

The Applicant needs, but doesn’t seem to have, certain information and/or skills. You might put his in writing so both of you can clarify or add to it. After exploring the issue together, you and the A/CLA might end up with something like:

Leaders keep the focus on the needs of the mothers, encourage ideas and suggestions from Group members, balance the discussion when necessary. They limit their personal sharing at Series Meetings.


Leaders show respect to all who attend Series Meetings. Being respectful includes: allowing everyone ample opportunity to speak; offering information/clarification/suggestions tactfully and empathetically; being aware of and managing their personal biases; using appropriate body language, tone of voice and word choice to welcome all mothers and their ideas/experiences.

With the A/CLA, brainstorm an approach designed to help the Applicant learn about the expectations LLL has for Leaders and practice the skills she will need to fulfill these expectations. Your approach will be most successful if everyone—you, the A/CLA and the Applicant—help to develop the design.

A Plan of Action

You might decide to do some or all of the following:

  • As part of her regular discussions with the Applicant, the A/CLA will write about the relevant information and skills. She will refer the Applicant to appropriate information in the LEADER’S HANDBOOK and may send her an article or two which will reinforce or expand on what she finds there. To support the work the Applicant is doing, the A/CLA will ask about her observations at Series Meetings and suggest activities/exercises designed to help her develop and practice the skills she needs.
  • You (and your co-Leaders) will include these same topics as part of your regular discussions with the Applicant about leadership. You may find that discussing them in a general way is enough to help the Applicant consider how she contributes at meetings. On the other hand, you may decide that it’s necessary to talk with her about how she can specifically help further the goals of Series Meetings, about how we meet the needs of the mothers who come to our meetings and how we work together to facilitate effective discussions.
  • The A/CLA can send a listening exercise to you and the Applicant. The Applicant will observe a Leader (you or another Leader) lead a meeting. She will notice what mothers and Leaders say as well as the reactions of meeting participants. Afterwards you will compare your observations and discuss how particular responses may or may not have been helpful to mothers and why. You’ll consider what changes you and/or others might make. This exercise can help the Applicant focus on the goals of meetings and how Leaders work toward accomplishing them.
  • You and the Applicant can plan a meeting together. See LEAVEN, Nov/Dec 1992, page 88 for specific ideas. You will consider the meeting topic, the information would probably include and the concerns mothers are likely to have. You will choose discussion question designed to bring out these needs and explore a variety of options. Together you will decide how the Applicant can help: how would she help keep the meeting on topic or balance the discussion; how might she help minimize size conversations or help a new mother feel welcome? Afterwards you will evaluate how well the meeting went and what a Leader might do differently next time.
  • You can role-play (with just you and the Applicant or with other Leaders and Applicants) Group dynamics situations. Choose situations customized to an Applicant’s needs. For example, you might role-play ways to respond when a mother dominates the discussion, respectfully clarify a point or balance a discussion that has become one-sided. You and the Applicant might take turns playing the mother’s and Leader’s parts. Discuss each role-play and re-play situations, if you like, or apply new learning to other situations. What did you both learn? How might this help you at the next Series Meeting?

As you work together, assess your progress. What’s going will? What could be improved? What have you achieved? What do you still need to work on? Have you observed positive changes? What have you learned? Keep in touch with the A/CLA.

A problem-solving approach can provide the key to making leadership a reality. Some Leader Applicants learn easily and effectively through reading, attending workshops and observing at Series Meetings. Others may need specific attention to one facet of leadership or another and more practice with the practical aspects. You, the Applicant and the A/CLA can help identify these areas and find ways to learn and practice necessary skills.

Nancy Spahr has been a Leader for 20 years and serves as US Western Division Leader Accreditation Coordinator. She has four children, ages 25,22, 18 and 11. In addition to LLL work, she teaches piano lessons and music classes for young children and parents.

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