Increasing our Potential for Learning and Growth: A Developmental Network Approach to Mentorship:

May 22nd, 2013 | Posted by amandastarling in Uncategorized

Following quite fluidly from the Fernand Deligny post presented to us by Drew Burk in our last installation, Jonathan Kroll here treats us to a piece on mentorship models based on developmental network theory. Kroll shows us that mentorship has long had a prime position in the developmental ecologies of both individuals and institutions. He suggests that the network of relationships we cultivate can increase our potential for learning and growth. Kroll reminds us that the developmental paradigm is a relational one; it takes a (networked) village to properly raise an individual and/or an institution. – Amanda Starling Gould

Increasing our Potential for Learning and Growth: A Developmental Network Approach to Mentorship

Jonathan Kroll


With the writing of Mentoring At Work: Developmental Relationships in Organizational Life, (1985) Kathy Kram proposed the ‘relationship constellation’ concept to describe the way individuals rely not on just one person, but instead engage multiple people—a village, if you will—for support and guidance. Later, Kram, working with Monica Higgins (2001), integrated research on mentoring with social network theory to establish the concept we in the pedagogical leadership field know as a developmental network.

Mentoring was part of our individual, organizational, and societal consciousness long before developmental network theory was written; with the writing of The Odyssey, Homer provided a language that is still utilized to describe such meaningful relationships and momentous experiences. Prior to leaving for battle, Odysseus requested that Athena, Goddess of Wisdom, assume the form of Mentor to look after his son. In that capacity, Mentor served as the wise and trusted guide for Telemachus. Mentor and Telemachus’ twenty-year relationship of discovery and development enabled Telemachus to grow into himself. It was through Mentor’s loving and supportive, guiding and nurturing, creative and insightful teaching that Telemachus smoothly journeyed into adulthood (Barrett-Hayes, 1999). The guidance provided by Mentor not only encouraged, but enabled Telemachus’ self-authorship (Kegan, 1982).

Like millennia ago, today we understand mentorship to be a developmentally rich, and educationally profound relational learning experience. However, only within the last four decades has it evolved into an academic research interest. Since the initial exploration of mentorship in the late 1970s, there has been no shortage of definitions and descriptions. In 2009, Crisp and Cruz assessed the state of mentorship noting that over 50 definitions existed varying in scale and scope. Although the quantity of definitions is robust, there are several prevailing common themes. Before diving into the network approach to mentorship, let me provide a brief overview of these common themes so that we are all on the same (web)page.


The Guiding Themes of Mentorship:

First, mentoring is distinct from and far more robust than supervising, coaching, assisting, guiding, advising, modeling, leading, and teaching (Hansman, 2002; Mullen, 2005)—concepts with which it is commonly interchanged and confused. Fundamental to mentorship is that the mentor and mentee understand that their relationship is a unique learning-filled relationship. Regardless if the mentorship experience is part of a formal program or originated out of spontaneity, the participants enter into the relationship with the intention that it will be growth-oriented and rich with personal/professional discovery.

Second, mentoring is a learning partnership. Mentors and mentees commit to one another and to the experience. Mentoring relationships are grounded in the conditions of trust without exploitation, candor coupled with compassion, and high expectations (Liddell, Cooper, Healy, and Lazarus Stewart, 2010). Mentorship, as a developmental relationship, is built upon a commitment to shared learning.

Third, mentorship itself is a process. Mentoring relationships are not cultivated overnight.  They require sustained development, motivation, planning, and orchestration (Barrett-Hayes, 1999). Sufficient time, space, and intentionality are needed to allow the relationship to reach its full potential.


A Developmental Network Approach to Mentorship:

An individual’s developmental network is comprised of all those people who take an active interest in, and intentional actions toward the growth and development of the individual. As compared to traditional one-to-one mentoring relationships, a developmental network perspective includes multiple and concurrent dyadic-networked relationships. The philosophy behind a developmental network is simple—it is unlikely that any single mentor can provide all that a mentee deserves or desires in order to realize and reach her/his full potential.

Relationship of mentor and mentee in a traditional one-to-one relationship.

Relationship of mentee to her/his development network (mentors)–multiple dyadic relationships


Wrap-Up of Developmental Network Post #1

Mentorship continues to be an integral part of the developmental fabric of human, organizational, and communal life. It is my belief that the chance for self-authorship increases exponentially with a developmental network framework of mentorship rather than with  the traditional one-to-one model. It is my hope that this post serves as an opening to greater and deeper explorations of developmental networks.



Barrett-Hayes, D. P. (1999). Coloring outside the lines: Portrait of a mentor-leader. In C. A. Mullen & D. W. Lick (Eds.), New directions in mentoring: Creating culture of synergy. New York, NY: Falmer Press.

Crisp, G., & Cruz, I. (2009). Mentoring college students: A critical review of the literature between 1990 and 2007. Research in Higher Education, 50(6), 525–545.

Hansman, C. A. (2002). Mentoring: From athena to the 21st century. In C. A. Hansman (Ed.), Critical perspectives on mentoring; Trends and issues (Information Series No. 388). ERIC Clearing House on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Higgins, M. C., & Kram, K. E. (2001). Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective. Academy of Management Review, 26, 264–288.

Kegan, R. (1982). The evolving self: Problem and process in human development. Cambridge, Ma: Harvard University Press.

Kram, K. E. (1985). Mentoring at work. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Liddell, D. L., Cooper, D. L., Healy, M. a., & Stewart, D. L. (2010). Ethical elders: Campus role models for moral development. About Campus, 15(1), 11–17.

Mullen, C. A. (2005). Mentorship Primer. New York, NY: Peter Lang Publishers.

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