What are the benefits of having a mentor?
When is the right time to volunteer to be a mentor yourself?
Today’s episode of the Candid Comms podcast is the season two finale and features Melisa Kakas, Internal Communications Manager at British Business Bank.
I have the pleasure of mentoring Melisa through the Institute of Internal Communication’s (IoIC) mentoring scheme.
During our conversation we discuss:
- What are the benefits of being mentored?
- When is the right time to put yourself forward to mentor others?
- How to create a successful mentoring relationship
- The importance of trust
- Why accountability is important
- The role confidence plays in a mentoring partnership
and much more.
How to listen to our conversation
Resources mentioned in this week’s episode:
- IoIC profession map
- IoIC mentoring scheme – next intake will be September 2021
- All Things IC’s mentoring
- Further reading: When is the right time to have a mentor?
- Further reading: How to communicate change – season one, episode nine.
About Candid Comms
The Candid Comms podcast launched in January 2021. It is a weekly show designed to connect internal communication professionals to the advice and guidance, to help you thrive in your role.
Do let me know what you think of this episode and don’t forget to rate, review and follow, so other Comms pros can benefit too.
Thank you to my Producer, Debbie West of Seren Creative.
Transcript of this week’s episode
Rachel Miller: You’re listening to the Candid Comms podcast with Rachel Miller. Join me every week for practical advice and inspirational ideas to help you focus on all things internal communication related.
Hello, and welcome to the show. On this week’s episode, I have a special guest to share with you, and the focus of our conversation is mentoring. I’m delighted to welcome Melisa Kakas to the Candid Comms podcast, who happens to be one of my mentees. Melisa, welcome.
Melisa Kakas: Thank you, Rachel. The pleasure is all mine.
Rachel Miller: Melisa, I wonder whether you could introduce yourself for our listeners and tell us where you work and tell us a little bit about how you started out your career in internal comms.
Melisa Kakas: Of course. My name is Melisa. Currently, I’m an internal communications manager at the British Business Bank, the UK government-owned bank. I have been officially in internal comms for, I would say, close to four years now. But looking back, I feel I have always been in internal comms because my career path has led me to where I am today. So I started in regulatory research in Austin, Texas, then I moved to the Netherlands where I was in project management, then change management support. Then somehow I transitioned to this wonderful world of internal comms where I have found my place under the sun.
Rachel Miller: That’s a good outcome, isn’t it? To find your place is wonderful. What a fascinating background. There’s so many conversations that people have about their career paths into internal comms, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach for internal comms. How has your regulatory experience helped you, do you think, in internal comms?
Melisa Kakas: I was thinking about that. A few years back, I would not say that my career path had any connecting dots or that it makes sense that I am where I am today. But now looking back, I was always the one who did most of the writing in whichever organisation I worked for. I was always very organised and I was connecting people, and that absolutely makes sense for an internal communicator. So I feel it was just a matter of time for me to find what I really wanted to do. It took some time, but sometimes best things in life do.
Rachel Miller: What a nice philosophy. Indeed. I couldn’t agree more. So the relationship we have is that we started working together through the Institute of Internal Communications’ mentoring scheme, and the IoIC scheme exists to encourage internal communicators to seek help with mentoring and also to encourage internal communicators to give back to the community and share their experience about all the mistakes, frankly, let’s be honest. Lots of the conversation we have are me sharing loads of mistakes and things to avoid!
So Melisa, can I ask you what inspires you to seek out mentoring and what were you hoping to achieve from it?
Melisa Kakas: I think, really, to give you the full story, to take a step back, I don’t think I would find myself in internal comms if I didn’t have this wonderful mentor back in Amsterdam where I used to live. Her name is Inge. If she ever listens to this, hi, Inge. Inge was a corporate comms manager and she pretty much took me under her wing. She recognised my strong points and my passion for good quality comms, and she told me that there is this wonderful thing called internal comms. So it all started with having someone believe in myself without being my direct manager and thanks to Inge, I found myself in London where now I live and hope to stay for many years to come.
Melisa Kakas: So I already had this experience knowing that you don’t really succeed alone, that we all need someone who will perhaps see things about ourselves that we don’t necessarily see or know. So I was at this point in my career last year, where I was thinking I could really use another person in my life to have those meaningful conversations with, and someone who might be able to see me more objectively than I see myself. This is how I sought out mentoring through the Institute of Internal Communication, and this is how we met.
Rachel Miller: It’s a really good scheme, isn’t it? I’ve mentored through them for a number of years and it always feels like when you put yourself into a mentoring part, if you like, you never know what the outcome’s going to be, and you never know who you’re going to be partnered with. I think something that the institute has done really well is match people really, really well. I certainly have had … when I was in-house I was matched with somebody internally to be a mentor and it didn’t work, and I think the reason was exactly what you said about having someone seeing you objectively. I felt like that relationship wasn’t a good fit with the chap that I’d been partnered with. It just didn’t work. I think for me the ingredients for a good relationship include being able to be open and be able to trust each other.
Rachel Miller: You need a bit of chemistry. Straight away, I think, you need to be able to connect with somebody. So I was delighted when we were partnered together, because I think from my very first conversation we just hit it off. I think it’s because we were very open to start with, about why we were going into that relationship, the reasons why we’d put our names forward to the Institute of Internal Communication. So thinking about that, what did you look for in a mentor? What were you hoping to achieve?
Melisa Kakas: I think it’s exactly what you say, Rachel. Based on my previous mentoring experience, I knew as much as you want to be impressed by someone’s career and find someone who has achieved things that you maybe hoped to achieve one day, this personal relationship is equally as important, and it’s the same with work, isn’t it?
We just like to work with people who we like. So I was looking for someone who I would be inspired by, but also someone who could also hopefully get something out of the mentoring relationship with me. Because as I progress in my career, I have an opportunity to work with colleagues who might be more junior with me and be there for them. So I could really see the both sides of the coin here.
So I was really looking for someone who would be there to listen, to guide me, but also do it in a very professional and objective way.
Rachel Miller: Right. I think the way that the Institute set up the conversations was very much based on the Profession Map. Listeners, if you’ve listened to the Candid Comms podcast in any episode, I probably talked about the Profession Map. It’s such a useful blueprint, really, for us as internal communicators. It looks at the skills and the behaviours that you need to have, on a page what good internal communication looks like and what a good internal communicator looks like. So the way the mentoring scheme was set up, I remember the first conversation we had, Melisa, was around looking at the Profession Map and then spotting gaps and talking through if this is what good looks like from the institute’s perspective, then we use that as our blueprint really, didn’t we, in terms of let’s talk through your experience and your skills and your interests.
Further reading: IoIC profession map.
Rachel Miller: It gave a bit of a framework, if you like, to start those conversations off, which I found really helpful to enable me to gauge where you’re at and where your passions are and your interests are. So for people who haven’t seen the map, I’ll included it in the show notes,. So can I ask you about the benefits of mentoring? This isn’t personal to me, if you like, but thinking about what has it been like for you so far. As you said, we started our relationship, our mentoring relationship in 2020. What have the benefits been for you?
Melisa Kakas: I don’t even know where to start. Working in-house as an internal communicator can be very stressful, to be honest. You’re very visible. Sometimes you’re the only person on your team. Everyone has a direct manager, of course, but sometimes you need this extra level of support, someone you can run your challenges by, and you need this open, candid environment.
You need someone who will be really able to tell you if your thinking is sound and if the things that you want to do are the right things for you.
But of course, there is also this layer of truly guidance and help because no one wants to be told what they do. I think if you spend some time in internal comms, you do develop certain skills where all you really are looking for is perhaps a bit of reassurance and a bit of understanding for your struggles.
Melisa Kakas: I think that goes back to being so visible and sometimes the only player on your team. It really helps to have someone who has been through it all and who knows how challenging it can be, and just lend this helping hand to you. That’s why I found mentoring so helpful. It has definitely helped me both professionally and personally.
Rachel Miller: That’s really good to know. From my perspective, I feel like the benefits of mentoring are … I love our conversations.
Melisa Kakas: Me too.
Rachel Miller: You take action. What impresses me about you is you’re absolutely right. As internal communicators, we are in such super visible roles where very often people think they can do our jobs and they tell us that, but that’s a whole other episode for another day, I’m sure.
But because you are in a very visible role and particularly, as you say, if you’re a team of one, if people are working in-house and they’re a team of one, and I certainly experienced that in my in-house career, you are super visible. It was those points in my career when I really benefited from having an external mentor. I think having conversations, which are confidential, we never share what we talk about and I think that’s really important that you have that, to use your word, a candid conversation, an honest and open conversation that doesn’t go beyond … Well, I was going to say these four walls, but it’s screens nowadays, isn’t it? It doesn’t go beyond the screens.
Rachel Miller: When I was in-house and had external mentors, I found the fact that they didn’t know my stakeholders was really helpful.
So the fact that people who I asked to mentor me were external to my situation meant that when I had to explain how people were internally or explain scenarios and situations, just the process of actually explaining it to somebody who doesn’t know those people, who doesn’t know your company culture made me realise how much I knew actually, and made me realise sometimes how to solve my own problems.
I find as a mentor, when you ask me questions, it makes me realise how much you know, and I don’t mean this arrogantly. It makes you realise how much when you have to explain it to somebody else and you’re really good at asking really insightful questions where we’ll be talking about, let’s choose a topic, change communication, and you will say things like, “Well, why do you do things in that way?”
Rachel Miller: That act of pausing, reflecting, and analysing and going “Actually, why do I do things in that way?” is really helpful for me as a mentor, because it helps me think about my processes and think about how do I help this make sense to somebody else when you just get into habits. When you’ve been doing an internal comms or any job for a while, you develop your own systems and processes and habits.
So I find the act of explaining things really helps folks. It helps me then challenge my own thinking to think, is there a better way of doing things? Does it make sense what I’m doing? Even I find it very cathartic just sharing mistakes, to be honest.
Melisa Kakas: I do as well, and I had a very similar experience. By being your mentee, the things that I asked you helped me realize how much I have learned and have grown and progressed in my various roles that I had so far. So I can definitely understand your point.
Rachel Miller: Perfect. So thinking about a good mentoring relationship, we’ve talked about trust and we talked about how important that is. I wonder whether we can think about your advice to other internal communicators. So for people who are listening to this and thinking, “I quite the idea of doing mentoring either as a mentee or as a mentor,” what would your advice be to them?
Melisa Kakas: I was thinking about your know, do, think structure, Rachel. So I think I would tell internal communicators what they need to know is that mentoring is always beneficial for them. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you better. It makes you stronger. It makes you a better rounded internal comms professional because no one knows everything. Even your boss doesn’t know everything, and that’s totally fine because we’re all here to grow and develop. So I would tell them to know that this is a perfectly acceptable and a welcome thing to do.
Rachel Miller: I think you’re right. As a mentor, I don’t know everything. I make so many mistakes and I learn constantly.
I think if people are worried about being a mentor because you feel like you need to have it nailed and you need to know everything, trust me, you don’t.
You really don’t. I think if you’re open to sharing what you do know, and to be challenged constructively, and to talk about your skills, knowledge, experience, mistakes, that’s good enough, I feel like. If people are worrying, thinking, “Well, I don’t feel like I’m experienced enough or I don’t feel like I’ve got certain expertise in a certain niche,” my advice would be, “Give it a go.” Give it a go and you’ll be surprised how much you actually do know once you go into those sorts of relationships
Melisa Kakas: And how much you get out of it, really.
Rachel Miller: Yeah, for sure.
Melisa Kakas: I would say that you just need to choose your preferred professional organisation. There’s so many different schemes and so many networks, formal, informal, where you can look for a mentor because I can assume that it can be quite overwhelming if you don’t know where to start. But luckily we work in internal comms and people are so lovely and wonderful and really willing to help.
That’s why we do what we do at the end of the day. So finding a mentor is just a matter of putting yourself out there and I’m sure that there is a right mentor for everyone. I would say, very importantly, when looking for a mentor, it would be very helpful to take a step back and think about who you are professionally and personally, where you want to be, because it is very helpful to find a mentor who can meet you at the place where you’re at right now and help you get there, help where you want to be in the future.
Melisa Kakas: I think it starts with self awareness and self knowledge. It’s really helpful to know what you’re looking for, or at least have an idea. We don’t have to know everything, but to have an idea of what we need professionally will help us find the right mentor for ourselves.
Rachel Miller: I think that’s brilliant advice. I think you’re right. It’s going into it being very intentional in terms of what does good look like for me and you know that I flip this around, so if I was going into a mentoring relationship and I have an idea of what does good look like and what would an ideal person be like to be partnered with, if that feels really hard to answer, turn it around and go, “Okay. So what’s a bad situation? What would a bad mentor be?
Someone I don’t feel able to be open with, somebody who I don’t talk to regularly where it’s a bit sporadic and you don’t have trust.” So comms friends, if you’re listing and thinking, “I’m not sure about mentoring,” whether to be one or whether to offer mentoring to other people, just map it out in terms of what does good look like for you? What would you go into that sort of discussion thinking? Why wouldn’t you put yourself forward?
Rachel Miller: So I encourage you to think about what does good look like from your perspective, whether you’re up for being a mentored or you want to mentor yourself. If you can’t answer that, if it feels tricky, turn it around. What does bad look like? Brilliant. Thank you. We are going to take a short break and when we come back, Melisa and I are going to be talking about confidence. See you in a moment.
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Rachel Miller: Welcome back. In the next part of this episode, Melisa and I are going to be talking about confidence, but I’m going to start our conversation thinking about being candid, because we’ve talked about a great mentoring relationship is when you can be open with each other. Melisa, you’re one of the very first people that I told that I was relaunching my podcast at the start of 2021 and I think you’re the third person that I told after Debbie. I told Debbie and my husband, and then I told you. I remember the conversation we had where I was trying to think of a name for the podcast. You know I had so many. I think it was like 54 names at one point, but candor is really important to me as an internal comms professional. So I’m curious to know, what does being candid mean to you?
Melisa Kakas: It was such a privilege to be one of the first people to know that you’re launching your podcast. So thank you for that, Rachel. I am a person that highly values candor as well, being truthful and being yourself. So for me, being candid, especially as internal communicator, means being your own brand, your own version of internal communicator, whatever that is. Because we work in all different circumstances in different industries.
There are things that I do better and there are things that other people do better, but I firmly believe that there is room for all of us because we all bring different strengths to the table.
So being candid really means for me being yourself, being your confident self and bringing yourself to your work. I don’t think you can really go wrong with being yourself because you will find your way. You will find your opportunity. Just be who you are. It’s very helpful. It makes life much easier.
Rachel Miller: That’s great, advice. I think you were right in terms of the … when you mentioned early about how visible we are. I think life’s too short to be somebody else, frankly. I think when you are working on internal comms, we do need to be adaptable and we need to … Sometimes we know things ahead of other people, particularly in a change comms scenario where we might have non-disclosure agreements internally. We know information that other people don’t know. We know before leaders, we certainly know before employees. A really important part of our role is about how do you share the right information with the right people at the right time? How do you bring them on the journey of change? I recorded an episode on change comms back in season one. I’ll include a link in the show notes.
Further reading: How to communicate change – season one, episode nine.
Rachel Miller: But I think being able to be open as much as you can is a really good mindset for internal communicators to have. The role of internal communicators, particularly, is amplifying employee voices, making sure that you have open lines of communication inside an organisation. We talk about that a lot and I think the more open we are, and the more honest we are in what we’re doing, the better. I sign off every single episode with what happens inside is reflected outside.
What happens inside for me from a mindset perspective in terms of being candid, being truthful, being open is so important because we talk about that for our leaders. We encourage our leaders to be authentic. We encourage them to be amplifying employee voices and listening. So we need to role model that as well, I think.
Melisa Kakas: I would completely agree.
Rachel Miller: So let me ask you, Melisa, about confidence. I’ve seen your confidence grow during our time together, and it’s just wonderful to see. I think I’m noticing the conversations that we’re having where you’re actively challenging in a really, really good way. So I don’t feel like I talk, you listen. I feel like we have a really decent conversation where we’re sort of going back and forth and we’re debating things. I feel like you do that more now than in our first calls. I put that down to confidence, but I’m curious to know how that is from your perspective and just curious how that’s been helpful for you for your confidence to grow during this time.
Melisa Kakas: I would definitely agree with you, Rachel, and I would say that my increased confidence was one of the outcomes of our mentoring relationship. I think I have realised through our work together that if I don’t bring my confidence self to work, I’m really robbing my organisation of the best they can get from me. That has been very important for me because I am the type of person, and so many of our colleagues are, we just want to do our best. We want to do what’s right for our organisation.
Thanks to our conversations and our work together, I believe I was able to make decisions and choices that I would not be able to do before.
I think talking to someone as experienced as you are really helped me sound check my own thinking and it helped me learn so much, even through a casual conversation.
Melisa Kakas: Then you have this way about you.That really makes you think, “What if I do fail? Is there really a failure in life? What if I do make a mistake? I will just do something else.”
Our relationship has made me feel much more comfortable in what I do every day and slowly but surely I have started to bring that to work, and I have seen wonderful results. People have been very open to my ideas, my recommendations, my suggestions. Then once you start doing that, you just want to do more and more and you become who you always wanted to be. Sometimes all you need is this gentle push from someone who cares about you professionally to really be everything you want to be.
Rachel Miller: That’s such a nice answer. I’m so proud of you, honestly. That’s just such a lovely answer. I love what you said there about if you don’t show up as that confident person and then you’re robbing the organisation of you. I think one of the best outcomes to me in mentoring relationships is spotting the potential. Then as a mentor, you see it and you see just from the … particularly with the way you ask questions, with your view on the world, with how insightful you are, how instinctive you are and how you take action between calls, which is like nothing else. I know. Honestly, you continue to impress me.
We have conversations. I’ll say, “Well, maybe you could try this or maybe you could try that,” and the next time we have a call, a month later, you’ve nailed it.
Rachel Miller: You’ve not just gone, “Oh, maybe I could do this,” but you step into challenging situations and you put yourself in situations and you think, “I’m just going to give this a go.” I feel like that gentle push is hopefully … you’re on an elastic band there, where you know that you can bounce back, you know that you’ve got someone behind you to have your back. I think the best mentoring relationships for me are where you’re not relying on your mentor to do the doing for you, but they’re encouraging you and gently nudging you and being there to catch you if you fall, being there to make sure that you’re all right. I feel like as you grow in confidence, and I certainly see this with you, where as you grow in confidence, you need me less because you’re doing it in your own, right and you’re stepping forward on your own path.
Rachel Miller: I’m still there, but it’s just lovely. It’s just lovely to see. If other people are thinking about mentoring, from your own personal experience, what are the two or three things that are the key benefits? Why is mentoring a good thing?
Melisa Kakas: I would recommend mentoring relationship to anyone, regardless if they want to be a mentor or a mentee. I think it’s such a beneficial thing to do professionally that you just can’t lose. Mentoring relationship definitely makes you more accountable and we all need that at certain points in our life, because there is this other person that cares about your success deeply, regardless if you’re a mentor or a mentee. So one big benefit for me is this accountability that you gain and that you, in a way, impose upon yourself, and maybe that’s exactly what you need at the time. Because you say that you will do certain things and then if you don’t do them, you, of course, don’t want to be in that position.
Melisa Kakas: Another benefit is this objectivity that you gain that you might not be able to get from your organisation because you’re in different kinds of relationships with your team or with your manager. I would say the third one is all the growth that you will experience if you let yourself really think about the conversations that you had with your mentor/mentee. If you explore additional resources shared, if you take a step back and think about not just your current situation but your career in general, mentoring will be a very beneficial thing.
Rachel Miller: Can I ask you from a really practical perspective? So I’m curious, because I realise I haven’t asked you this and I’m curious. When you’re having mentoring conversations and afterwards, do you journal?
How do you capture … Because I feel like we cover a lot in our conversations and I’m always sending you emails, pinging resources at you, going, “I’ve written about this. There’s a book here that I think will be good,” and I’m always flooding your inbox with random things or things that I’ve spotted between our calls that I think, “Oh, I think Melisa would really enjoy reading this.” How do you, on a practical perspective, capture all of your notes and you’re thinking from our mentoring relationship.
Melisa Kakas: I definitely journal, and this is also one thing I learned through our mentoring, how important it is to write things down. I have always been a writer. That’s how I have found myself in internal comms. I have always had a journal ever since I was very young, but I didn’t bring that into my professional life really until I started working with you. So whenever we have one of our conversations, you’re so right, there’s so many things to cover and we talk about so much and I do take some notes, but it’s impossible to capture it all.
I give myself some thinking time to really absorb everything we talked about, and then I find some time to sit down and write and really think about things that we talked and really reflect on the important topics that we covered. I have also implemented a new thing at work where on Fridays I try to take time to think about my successes of the week, about my areas of development, about the meaningful conversations I had.
Melisa Kakas: It really helps me not just to see how far I’ve come, but also to set myself for success for next week. Because if you do that on a Friday afternoon, it really makes your Monday morning better. At least that’s what I found. So yes, I definitely write things down and I have learned to dedicate some time to just thinking and working on my career and not just working in my job. I think that was very important to be able to take a step back and see a bigger picture of where I am and where I want to be.
Rachel Miller: I think that last point you said is … I think all of that is so important, but you particularly said taking time to work on, not in. I certainly find that as a business owner, that I need to take time to work ON All Things IC, not IN All Things IC. You’re absolutely right. When you were working in-house, you can totally do that.
You’re taking time to work on your career, on your professional development rather than always being in it. It took me years to learn that. It took years to realise the importance of it. It always goes to the back of the queue because when you are in that super visible role and you are an internal communicator and you are supporting everybody else, it’s like that phrase, the cobbler’s children are the last to get the shoes.
Rachel Miller: I like the fact that you’re very intentionally making time. I think that’s really important.
I think as internal communicators, as you start to manage teams, as you start to do less of the doing and more of the thinking perhaps, you’re nudging towards being a strategic internal communicator. I think that carving out time to think and work on and think about the business and think about what you’re doing is so important.
So everything you’re doing there is just brilliant and will set you up for success and set the people around you up for success as well.
Melisa Kakas: I would also like to add that being in a managerial position has really made me more aware of being a role model of sorts for people who work in my team. So it’s also a very strong motivator to dedicate some time to being who I could be professionally, because there are people who are looking up to me and I want to do right by them and I want to teach them that there is a better way than just run from one project to another.
We are not doing anyone a service if we don’t take a step back and really think about what we are doing and why we are doing it.
I don’t think I can have a happy person working under me if I’m not happy myself, so I take that very seriously.
Rachel Miller: I couldn’t agree more with that. I think that’s really important. I think being really mindful about the people around you and what they’re picking up in terms of how you’re working and what your working habits are. I think you’re right. It makes you a better manager and a better leader because you’re able to role model, as you said, and role model the right behaviours.
So Melisa, let’s just think about if people aren’t in a position to be able to invest time, money, and effort in mentoring, from your experience, what other support is out there for internal communicators?
Melisa Kakas: I think there’s plenty of support out there. We just have to put ourselves out there. So for example, through LinkedIn, you can find all kinds of informal groups, people being very passionate about internal comms. There’s always someone with a challenge that you might have as well, open to have a conversation. Don’t be afraid to reach out to others. The worst that can happen is them saying no, and then someone else will say yes. But from my experience internal communicators rarely say no, so it’s very easy to find people who might be able to help you and who you might be able to help.
Rachel Miller: Wonderful. Melisa, thank you so much for sharing your skills and your expertise and your knowledge with the Candid Comms podcast listeners today. If people want to find you online, where’s the best place?
Rachel Miller: Perfect. Thank you. So I will include your social links in the show notes. So all that remains for me to say is thank you so much for being part of the conversation today and for being candid and being so open in sharing your experience.
Melisa Kakas: Thank you so much for having me today, Rachel. It was wonderful talking to you as always. I look forward to our next conversation.
Rachel Miller: Wonderful. Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of the Candid Comms podcast.
It was the final episode of season two. Thank you to everybody who has been tuning in around the globe and sharing what you take away from my conversations.
I would love to know what you’d like to see in season three. You’re very welcome to get in touch. Feel free to contact me by all the usual methods. You can find me online @AllThingsIC on Twitter. I’m @rachelallthingsic on Instagram. Look me up on LinkedIn, Rachel Miller, or send me a note via my website, allthingsic.com/contact.
And remember, what happens inside is reflected outside.
Post author: Rachel Miller.
First published on the All Things IC blog 8 August 2021.