It’s a new year, and it’s on you to take charge. Seek out people you admire to help kick off great chains of events for your professional life and brand. In other words, make sure you are always cultivating mentors and sponsors. And no matter your career stage, you can mentor or sponsor others.

Seek vs. earn | “Mentors are easier to seek out. Sponsors you have to earn,” says Debbra Schoneman, CFO of Piper Jaffray. She thinks of herself as a bit of an anomaly in today’s business landscape because she started at Piper as an intern and rose through the ranks. Cultivating relationships along the way, Schoneman didn’t always realize she was a beneficiary of sponsorship. She says her current role wasn’t some sort of “predestined position.” But because she was a natural problem-solver, she became kind of an “entrepreneur within Piper Jaffray.” Leaders around her saw the potential and both supported her and challenged her on the road to becoming one of the most highly paid women executives in the Twin Cities.

Mentor or sponsor? | A mentor is someone you can rely on for advice and guidance. The mentor-mentee relationship can last a lifetime or a short span, covering a project or career stage. There is no one-size-fits-all. Seek out people different from you. Challenge yourself to be challenged by diverse perspectives, genders and upbringings. This also ensures you get a wider range of advice. At any given time, I suggest people have one or two mentors, but make sure you manage the relationships. Your mentor is a busy person, so respect for calendars is vital.

Presence is a reward | At this magazine’s first annual Marvelous Mentors event in August, I heard from five mentees and their awarded mentors, who all shared how they learned just as much or more from their mentees as they hoped to have imparted. The mentees advised everyone to keep eyes and ears open for good mentors. Mentoring and sponsoring are vital to a robust economy in any business climate, but especially when more and more younger generations are supervising older ones.

Sponsors are earned | As Schoneman so aptly puts it, you can’t go around and select your sponsors. They choose you based on the kind of person you are and the work they witness. “Being vulnerable and authentic has totally unleashed me along the way,” reflects Schoneman. When various bosses saw her using her entrepreneurial methods, creating results, they helped Schoneman position herself for bigger roles. This is an ideal sponsor relationship. Schoneman has done the same with those coming up the ranks and finds great satisfaction in mentoring.

Best lessons | Schoneman advises all people to “learn to be self-aware” as a first step toward finding the mentor you need or impressing a future sponsor. That mentor you had when you were 25 may come back around and seek out your advice now that you’re in a field that interests them. Stay in touch with those who have helped you—even just a birthday message each year. These are your advocates. If you are a mentor, never hesitate to ask your mentees for their honest advice when you are researching something new. The dividends of these relationships are priceless.

Roshini Rajkumar is a communication coach, host of News & Views on WCCO Radio, and author of Communicate That! For additional communication tips, visit CommunicateThatBook.com.

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