Network Like a CHAMP: Meerkats and Mountain Guides [1392 words]

Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.

In this series, learn the five critical connections you need to maintain for growing your career, your CHAMP network. CHAMP is an acronym that stands for Customer, Hire, Associate, Mentor, Protege.

  • Part 1 provided an overview and outlined Customer and Hire networks. [Read more…]
  • This article explains the value of Associate, Mentor, and Protege networks.

Associate Network: Your eyes and ears across the industry

Meerkats know what their network buddies are up to!No matter where you work or what you do, you need a strong Associate network of peers in your company and industry.

Imagine your industry — or your company, if it large enough — is a giant jigsaw puzzle. Your role or department is represented by one oddly-shaped piece. By networking with peers in other departments of your company or other companies within your industry, you get to see more pieces of the puzzle. When you can put enough of them together, you get a big picture view, no matter how small your part may seem.

The other analogy I use is “Be a meerkat.” Meerkats work as a team to find food and look out for threats. A meerkat digs around for awhile, but then it pops up to make sure all its meerkat buddies are still around, doing meerkat things. If you never pop up to see what your buddies are doing, you might find yourself all alone on the prairie. So, be a meerkat!

[bctt tweet=”Be a meerkat, and other useful networking advice ” username=”LeadAtAnyLevel”]

Associate networks are the easiest of all

Of all the CHAMP networks, Associates are the easiest to find and engage. Why?

  • They are all around you, and you see them every day.
  • Peer connections are usually less intimidating.
  • You probably have a lot in common.
  • You probably have a lot to learn from one another.

Associate networks are made up of your peers, or people with a similar level of authority as yours. Whatever role you play in an organization or industry, you are likely in good company. New employees, first-time managers, and seasoned executives can all have strong Associate networks. Anyone you work with on a regular basis is likely in this network. And because you work with them on a regular basis, you should be able to build a relationship very naturally.

Where to begin

Start by inviting an Associate out for lunch or a cup of coffee. Get beyond superficial small talk by asking friendly, open-ended questions.

  • How did you get to your current role?
  • What excites you about the work you’re doing right now?
  • What challenges are you facing right now?
  • What’s next for you?

You will be amazed at what you can learn about other departments, other companies, and other people over a simple cup of coffee! The more people you can engage in these conversations, the more you can learn.

When your turn comes around to share, keep the conversation honest and positive. Don’t be afraid to share challenges you’ve overcome, your short-term goals, or your long-term aspirations. Avoid placing blame for problems, and never speak ill of a colleague or manager. Remember, you may be a candidate for your Associate’s Hire network someday!

Mentor Network: A glimpse into the future

A Mentor network can help you grow in your career.Mentors are people who have more experience, or different experience, in your field. A Mentor can help you with a short-term or long-range goal. He or she can help you imagine possible futures for yourself or likely outcomes of decisions you’re facing. A Mentor can also help you build your network over time by introducing you within their professional circles.

Is there someone in your company or industry you admire? Tell them so! Ask if they have 30 minutes once a month (for example) to help you grow in your career. Be genuine and proactive, and be gracious even if they say no.

Engaging with a Mentor can be time well spent. To build a successful relationship, be proactive.

  • Have goals for the mentorship and communicate them clearly.
  • Know which aspects of your career require the Mentor’s advice or guidance.
  • Come to each conversation prepared with an objective or desired outcome.
  • Demonstrate that you are following your Mentor’s advice.
  • Be respectful of and grateful for your Mentor’s time.

Protege Network: A reminder of how much you have to give

Last, and perhaps most important, is your Protege network. A Protege is someone you mentor, plain and simple. The word connotes some sort of Jedi/Apprentice relationship, I know. And that’s okay. You probably are a Jedi Master at some aspect of your work. Develop a plan to share that knowledge with someone just coming up in your field.

Why is this important?

There are three reasons I believe everyone should be a mentor:

  1. There is always someone, somewhere who needs to see a possible future version of themselves. For every person who has made it through school, out of poverty, beyond an illness or addiction, to the other side of bad choices, or into a profession, there are dozens of people who can’t see a path forward. For every one of us who has gotten a promotion, there are dozens of people just entering the workforce with no idea how to proceed. Did you have a mentor or role model? If so, what did that mean for you? If not, how might you have accelerated on your path had someone shown you the way?
  2. The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know, and the less you realize you do know. Wow. That’s a paradox, isn’t it? Let me break this down for you. Imposter syndrome, the fear that everyone will find out you’re a big ol’ phony, increases with our level of achievement and mastery of a subject. We often devalue the skills we’ve mastered because they’re easy for us. News flash: Everyone didn’t learn what you did the moment you learned it. Spending time with someone who hasn’t learned it yet can be a great reminder of how far you’ve come. And it gives you an opportunity to share your knowledge for someone else’s benefit. Everyone wins.
  3. The more you give, the more you gain. I don’t have any science to back this up. Anecdotally, this is real, and I see it in my life every single day. Sure, there are wildly successful jerks. Just don’t be one of them. When you do good in the world, you improve your self-esteem. When you “pay it forward,” other people are drawn to you. And when something good happens in your career, all those people you helped will celebrate with you. As Dick Parsons said in his Fortune interview, “Be the person everyone wants to see succeed.”

What if I don’t know anything?

A Protege network helps you see how far you've come.

If it’s true that every person you meet knows something you don’t, then the reverse must also be true. Every person you meet doesn’t-know something you know! If I could still do mathematical proofs, I would put a bunch of impressive “if and only if” statements here. I can’t do that anymore, so let’s just assume I’m right.

Look at your résumé. What have you accomplished? What skills or knowledge did you gain in the process? Have you taken any classes, read any books, or completed any projects? If so, you are still on the hook to impart this knowledge on someone else in some way. If not, here are several ideas for gaining new skills. No more excuses!

Start simple. Tweet an article like this one to share with your professional network. Just like that, you’ve shared some new-found knowledge!

[bctt tweet=”Be a meerkat, and other useful networking advice ” username=”LeadAtAnyLevel”]

CHAMP Network, in Summary

By seeking Customers, Hires, Associates, Mentors, and Proteges for your network, you will gain a broad and deep perspective of your industry, your company, your skills, and your career. Your Customers will give you a fresh perspective on your industry and company. Having a strong Hire network will allow you to help others, create opportunities, and solve problems. Work with Associates to fill in the missing pieces of your big picture (and theirs). Mentors will show you the way forward, and Proteges will remind you how far you’ve already come. And finally, when you make connections to help others build a CHAMP network, your value increases many times over.

Permission to Reprint

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Amy C. Waninger Author Bio

Amy C. Waninger is the Founder & CEO of Lead at Any Level, where she improves employee engagement and retention for companies that promote from within. Amy offers assessments, advisory services, and training on essential skills for inclusive leaders. She is the author of eight books. Learn more at

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11 responses to “Network Like a CHAMP: Meerkats and Mountain Guides [1392 words]”
  1. […] you building solid peer relationships at work? Make time to chat with and learn about people you may not have connected with in the past. […]

  2. […] events? Does your company offer Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), social event committees, or mentoring opportunities? These are great opportunities to take a leadership […]

  3. […] I often ask my audiences, “What perspectives does your network IGGNORE?” If you’ve read Network Beyond Bias or attended one of my programs, you know that “IGGNORE” is an acronym that represents different aspects of diversity. One great way to learn from different perspectives is to seek out media from non-traditional sources. You can even think of media as mentorship! […]

  4. […] Most of us don’t go into our selection process alone. If you typically fly solo, find a peer in another department with whom you can partner. Look for someone who is not like you in ways that are important to you: […]

  5. […] wages, benefits, and company culture. During several recent conversations within and around my Associate Network, the topic of age discrimination has been dominant. For Baby Boomers who still consider themselves […]

  6. […] attention to whether people of color seek me out as a mentor, partner, or ally, and look within myself if they do […]

  7. […] people with whom who work the most closely, your CHAMP network, are likely to have valuable insights about how you are perceived. Use questions […]

  8. […] expanding your network beyond your current industry. The first step in assembling your CHAMP network, after all, is to build a relationship with your customer. And customers almost always work in a […]

  9. […] events? Does your company offer Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), social event committees, or mentoring opportunities? These are great opportunities to take a leadership […]

  10. […] Part 2 outlines the value of Associates, Mentors, and Proteges in your network… […]

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