Q&A: Kelly McGinnis, 2019 Corporate Honoree


The Plank Center recognizes and promotes the critical role mentors play in helping to develop leaders and advance the profession and honors leaders throughout the profession who, by word and deed, have demonstrated a superior commitment to mentoring others, and who are committed to accelerating the success of others in the field at its annual Milestones in Mentoring Gala.

Our question and answer series introduces the 2019 Milestones in Mentoring award recipients.

Kelly McGinnisMeet Kelly McGinnis

As Chief Communications Officer of Levi Strauss & Co., Kelly McGinnis is responsible for managing the global Corporate Affairs function at the 160-year old apparel company. In this capacity, she oversees corporate media relations, executive, internal and stakeholder communications, government affairs, social responsibility and community affairs.

What is your mentorship approach and what advice do you give your mentees?

My approach changes with each person I get to work with. What’s consistent, however, is expecting more from my mentees than they expect of themselves. At the first encouragement to tackle something challenging and new, they’re nervous. But later when they look back, they hardly remember a time they weren’t the team’s most passionate, knowledgeable expert in that area.

Here’s my advice: First, challenge yourself to step outside your comfort zone and keep doing so. Second, become a utility player, work hard and develop skills across several areas – don’t specialize early in your career. Third, don’t be self-limiting. Be open-minded about opportunities, area of work and trust your capabilities. The people you work with are way more important than the content that you’re working on.

What advice would you tell your early-career self with respect to finding a mentor?

People want to help, so don’t be afraid to ask. The folks who are comfortable talking to anyone (the most senior to the most junior) are the ones who have the most opportunities and access. When I started in PR, I worked with many former newspaper editors who all had a somewhat gruff exterior. They could be a little terrifying but after I had a chance to work with them, I realized that every one of them was incredibly committed to helping me learn, grow and gain new experiences. Don’t let fear limit you.

What have you found to be the most important key to having a successful mentor/mentee relationship?

Candor. Establishing open communication in a way that is safe and supportive. For example, there have been times when my mentors have told me that speaking too quickly undercuts my effectiveness in sessions – and I needed to hear that. Now as a mentor myself, when I see someone not being heard, I’ll repeat or point out what they said. Afterward, I’ll pull that person aside and help them interpret the dynamics in that room so they can be better prepared.

What is one powerful thing you’ve learned from mentoring someone?

How powerful it can be to believe in people beyond what they think they can do themselves.

Please summarize your professional career including its high and low points. (How did you work your way up the ladder? How has having a mentor influenced your career path? What have you learned along the way? What factors contributed most to your success? How did you navigate challenges to reach your current position?)

I worked my butt off for a couple of decades and was willing to take on whatever came my way. I looked at every opportunity with the mindset of “How can I add value?,” “What can I learn here?” and made sure to raise my hand when there were chances to try something new. I have this theory: Within six weeks of raising your hand – of showing you’re eager to learn something new – opportunities will come your way.

For a long time, I positioned myself as a strong No. 2, the person who could execute anything for the powerful leaders I worked for. Then I had a boss who challenged me to take charge. I always felt I had the energy and drive for it but having someone say “I believe you can” gave me the confidence to take the leap.

And that’s one of the factors that has contributed to my success: confidence. Also important is knowing when it’s time to tackle the next challenge. The step changes in my career have come when I’ve stepped away from what is comfortable and known to tackle something completely unfamiliar. It’s true — embracing risks can yield huge rewards.

What’s your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

Being outside with my kids and dog.

Favorite app?

New York Times and Next Draft – I’m a news junkie.

Favorite place to vacation and why?

Doesn’t matter if it’s the mountains or the beach – as long as I’m outside with my family, I’m happy.

My leadership tip is…

Energy and a big heart will take you a long way.

My mentorship tip is…

Believe in yourself and speak up.

Every mentor is…

Eager to help.

Lesson that took you the longest to learn…

You achieve better results from your team if they’re driven by purpose and values than any external motivation.

Habits in your daily routine that strengthen your leadership skills…

Being conscientious about my managing energy and well-being, and encouraging my team to do the same.

Three things you do to inspire and encourage teamwork…

Listen. Get to know people as people, give them time to share what’s going on at home before jumping into work.  And be vulnerable and courageous. Be the one to say what everyone’s thinking or wondering.

Published July 15, 2019

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