Reaching out to create a “Developmental Network”

Last week, KU Public Administration Department Chair Marilu Goodyear met with participants in our Emerging Leaders Academy to discuss the research on mentoring and offer some guidance to help them identify areas in which they might seek mentoring and people who they know who might fill that role.

Emphasis on people. Plural.

Marilu cited research by Kathleen Kram who interviewed employees in organizations about mentoring. When asked if they had a mentor, most people said no. But Kram’s research found that in fact most of her interviewees named multiple people in their work lives who served various mentoring functions. Kram thus posited that most career professionals have “developmental networks” of people in their lives rather than single mentors.

The following graphic, from Marilu’s 2006 article “Mentoring: A Learning Collaboration,” offers an example of what such a network might look like.

As she notes, “these networks consist not only of senior staff in the profession but also of peers and even junior professionals, who often can help veterans learn a new skill. Family members and friends can also play important roles in a developmental network, particularly in the areas of role modeling and psychosocial support.”

This approach takes away the expectation that one senior executive in an organization can both know and provide everything a junior executive needs, an assumption that was rarely borne out in practice.

Importantly, it also relocates the responsibility for effective mentoring relationships from the organization and the senior executives to the mentees who “develop their own developmental networks in relation to their particular needs. Mentees reach out to individuals around them to seek assistance in the functional areas where they need help.”

Have you ever found mentoring from an unlikely source who fits with this idea of a “developmental network”? What possibilities does this approach open for you? Share your experiences in the comments!