Almost 30 years ago, I started my career as an intern at a direct marketing agency in Chicago. It wasn’t a huge agency at the time and consequently, there wasn’t much of an orientation program and certainly no training or education programs for new employees. I learned the way many of us learn: On the fly, on the job.

I was incredibly fortunate to work for and be mentored by an amazing woman—thank you, Dorothy!—who was a vice president in our account management division. She mentored me, she challenged me and she created many opportunities that exposed me to more in three years than most would have experienced in five.

Dorothy was amazing at business development, problem-solving and relationship-building. And most important, she was amazing at using her skills to have the most important conversations when they needed to be had. She taught me that even the best-laid plans or the easiest projects are likely to run into snags and issues. Rarely does a project go exactly as planned.

Consequently, not everyone is always going to be happy. Whether you’re working with clients, fellow employees, contractors, partners, vendors or management, prepare them for the unexpected, and then communicate and manage expectations at every step of the process. Dorothy taught me to attack problems, conflicts and challenges head on and never wait to have the important conversations. The sooner you engage, the sooner you can start solving the problem.

Fast forward around 12 years. At this point, I am certainly more seasoned and have been in various management and key leadership roles with a few different organizations. My small company at the time is acquired by a very large company in the financial services space, and one of the first things I find myself doing is going to a mandatory class for all managers.

In this multi-day class, which is called “Crucial Conversations,” I find myself learning about many of the same things that I had been mentored on years ago. The class was exceptional and covered not only the importance of those crucial conversations but also how to have them and how to make others comfortable when having them, so it’s a win-win for all involved.

We learned that these skills weren’t only for when there was an issue or conflict, but also to strengthen engagement and build relationships. This was a great class for anyone who was managing people or projects. More importantly, it was a great class for anyone who was in or wanted to be in a leadership role.

So why do I bring this up? As leaders in our organizations, I think it’s important to make sure that two things are always happening: First, keep mentorship alive and well. In addition to being a mentor, make sure your organization supports mentorship and creates opportunities for people to find mentors and be mentors.

I have been blessed to not only find and have one mentor, but to have had four people mentoring me at various times and stages throughout my career—some of which are still mentoring me today. You learn more, experience more and share more whether you are a mentor or mentee.

Not every organization can have intense training programs that cover all aspects of growth, management and leadership. But every organization can have mentorship programs and approaches that allow people to teach and learn from each other every day.

Also, make sure your teams—whether new employees, new managers or seasoned executives—are constantly learning and honing their crucial conversation skills. Whether through training, classes or mentorship, make education available on such topics as managing conflict, developing emotional intelligence, strengthening communication and people skills, and becoming an effective manger and leader.

Helping your team sharpen these skills will not only create stronger relationships with employees and customers but will also help strengthen the skills and health of the organization and the work it does.

Today I am both mentor and mentee and constantly learning from each relationship. At FEI, we are teaching and learning daily as well. If you haven’t yet started this journey, go for it and give us a call. We can help.