Here’s What You Don’t Know About Relationships That Could Change Your Career

Renowned author and businessman Zig Ziglar once said, “A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.”

COVID-19 has demonstrated that people want to help each other. On the neighborhood app Next Door, one of my neighbors posted they were looking for toilet paper and wanted to know where anyone has seen some available. Immediately without missing a beat people responded in droves. While many shared strategies and location, one person simply said, “I’ll leave four rolls of toilet paper outside my door for you.” The desire to give and help is incredibly palpable during this time.

With the focus being about lifting up our friends, family and communities, let’s also put a spotlight on helping each other at work through mentoring. According to one survey by Robert Half International, 94% of U.S. executives say that having a mentor is important for professionals starting out. Even at least 70% of Fortune 500 companies offer formal mentoring programs (according to Chronus Corporation).

A mentor provides wisdom and guidance based on their experience and expertise. In a formal mentoring program, usually the person receiving mentoring is someone younger or more junior, and the mentor helps them progress in their professional career development. Mentoring is not necessarily age-based; someone who is younger might be experienced in a specific area that someone older wants to develop, such as technology or social media.

In a sense, the experience of the mentor becomes a case study for what’s possible for the mentee. The mentor can share, for example, “Here’s how I handled something that was similar to what you’re going through, and if you handle it that way, it may have an equally positive outcome.” Or, “Something similar happened to me, and I reacted in this way, and it didn’t go very well. From that experience, I learned these five things [state them], and so, if I were in your shoes, I would do [such-and-such].”

While the mentor is a guide, the person receiving the mentoring—the mentee—helps guide the relationship itself because they are eager to grow and develop. A mentee wants to benefit from the expertise that a mentor can share with them.

Mentoring can also include the modalities of advising, consulting, and coaching. The mentor and mentee relationship is one of equals, based on trust and respect, and based on one person’s desire to grow and another person’s desire to help them do so. Mentoring is built on trust and respect and safety. Healthy mentoring relationships foster an open and respectful environment where people feel safe to share, to grow, and to express themselves and be themselves fully. A mentee gains confidence in their abilities, along with respect for themselves, when a mentor is helping them grow in their skills and professional development.

As a mentor, your overarching goal is to help your mentee reach their goals and live up to their full potential. The most successful learning and development happens when an individual’s strengths are noticed, focused on, and further built up.

How do you get started in a mentoring relationship?

Your organization may already have a formal mentoring program set up and inquiring with your Human Resources partners will give you an idea what is available. Either way, whether your organization has a program or not, seek out someone you admire or want to learn from and simply ask if they will mentor you. Typically the person will ask “what do you want mentoring about?” or “what do you have in mind?”

I find that having a framework for mentoring is critical in setting up the relationship for success and how you set the relationship up is most important.

Here’s the 5D’s, The Ready Zone’s guidelines for how to set up your first meeting for success:

  1. Determine the purpose – why are you both engaging in the relationship? What is the intention for the relationship?
  2. Design the goals of the mentoring relationship – the mentee drives this conversation, sharing what they want to achieve, e.g. career advancement or being a more successful team leader. Setting goals is critical for both mentor and mentee in order to have a clear sense of what you are going to be working on for the duration of the relationship. This will grow and evolve over time, so check in with each other every 90 days to make sure you are still in alignment with these goals.
  3. Decide on the learning – in order to achieve the goals of the relationship, the mentee may want to learn and develop certain skills. For example, communication savvy, influencing skills, negotiation abilities. The learning may evolve over time as the mentee progresses in their goals. For example, if someone has a goal of improving their visibility, one area that would be important to refine is their executive presence. A mentor may see their mentee show up speaking more casually than is ideal in meetings with certain key executives. A mentor might hone in on their mentee, paying closer attention to refining their language and tailoring their communication to meet specific audiences.
  4. Declare your expectations – Set a clear tone and be honest about what you both expect, e.g. regularity of meetings, confidentiality, honesty, meeting preparation. Both of your expectations may be different so be clear what you want so you come away with a clear understanding of what you can expect of each other. Any relationship can go awry quickly when there are unexpressed expectations.
  5. Define the meeting structure – Are you going to meet face to face or over the phone or via video conferencing or a more informal video app? How often are you going to meet? Where are you going to meet? Be mindful of a person’s communication style—is it easier for them to express themselves in person? In writing? Also be mindful of the setting and ensure that it’s comfortable and conducive to communication.

While mentoring 1-1 in a formal program or creating your own informal mentoring catapults your development, can you imagine a workplace culture where mentoring is a part what people do every day – where employees operate in the mindset of giving back, and people are consciously sharing ideas, information and skills and learning from one another? That is certainly our dream and one learning we hope COVID-19 permanently gives us.


Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect.

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