Open Journal of Leadership
2013. Vol.2, No.2, 21-26
Published Online June 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 21
The Efficacy of the Adaptive Mentorship© Model
Edwin G. Ralph1*, Keith D. Walker2
1Department of Curriculum Studies, College of Education, University of Saskatchewan,
Saskatoon, Canada
2Deparment of Educational Administration and Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of
Public Policy, University of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon, Canada
Email: *
Received March 14th, 2013; revis ed Apri l 1 4th, 2013; accepted April 22nd, 2013
Copyright © 2013 Edwin G. Ralph, Keith D. Walker. This is an open access article distributed under the Crea-
tive Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any me-
dium, provided the original work is properl y cited.
In this article the authors describe the Adaptive Mentorship© (AM) model that they designed, applied, and
refined during the past two decades. They developed AM to be used within a variety of management,
mentorship, coaching, supervisory, or training programs. After employing and researching it within edu-
cational settings, they received a federal grant to disseminate the model to a wider audience across the
professional and occupational landscape and to investigate its effects. The researchers summarize the re-
sults of that experience, including their recent analysis of the judgments of several panels of experts re-
garding the efficacy of AM model. The authors present these findings for the consideration of practitio-
ners, scholars, and researchers in any field interested in improving the mentorship offered in their own
Keywords: Mentorship; Leadership; Management; Professional Coaching; Expert Panels
Interest in the study of mentorship has increased in all fields
(Steers, Sanchez-Runde, & Nardon, 2010), from the business
and commerce sectors (Bauer & Erdogan, 2009) to the health-
and social sciences, applied sciences, and humanities (Allen &
Eby, 2007; Carnegie, 2011).
The personal life experiences of most individuals have con-
firmed that one of the best ways to help novices internalize the
main functions of any profession or occupation is through
mentoring them (Ellsum & Pedersen, 2005; Ralph & Walker,
2013). The literature has also shown that no single definition of
mentorship applies to all settings, but that every discipline em-
ploys unique terms to describe this helping-developmental
process within its own field (Rose, Ragins, & Kram, 2007).
Furthermore, mentorship programs have varied in terms of their
degree of effectiveness, because participants have not always
been adequately prepared to implement and/or sustain an effec-
tive mentorship approach (Schoonover, 2002). This fact pro-
vides further impetus for seeking ways to employ and/or en-
hance efficacious mentorship practices in every educational,
training, or preparation setting. We provide evidence in this
paper that Adaptive Mentorship is an effective model that men-
toring partners could adopt or adapt to enhance the quality of
the mentoring process.
Purpose of the Article
In this paper we briefly describe the Adaptive Mentorship
model, its rationale, and its implementation; and we synthesize
the results of the growing body of research that we and others
have conducted within various professions in several countries
regarding its potential to improve the mentoring process.
Literature Review
Although definitions of mentorship, coaching, supervising,
and training—both in the literature and across profession fields-
have varied considerably (Bozeman & Feeney, 2007; Rose &
Best, 2005), there is almost universal agreement that the proc-
ess of mentorship has certain characteristics (Brock, 2011; Chu,
2009). These commonalities are that: 1) it involves providing
support to help protégés develop personally and socially/pro-
fessionally; 2) it has functioned in family, community, and
organizational settings since ancient times; 3) it is practiced
both formally and informally in a variety of forms; 4) it can
yield potential benefits and drawbacks for mentors, protégés,
and the groups in which they participate; and 5) it is influenced
by a variety of contextual factors and conditions, not the least
of which is the quality of interpersonal relationships between/
among the participants (Yoo, 2004).
Some of the mentorship research has indicated that although
the relationship between mentors and protégés is typically posi-
tive (Chun, Sosik, & Yun, 2012), there is in many cases a defi-
ciency that arises within the mentorship transaction. The prob-
lem may emerge from inadequate/inappropriate guidance, un-
acceptable supervisory interventions, unproductive mentoring
responses, or poor leader communication (Taherian & Shekar-
chian, 2008). There has thus been a subsequent call for better
mentorship training and enhanced developmental relationships
(Asare, 2008; Myall, T. Levett-Jones, & J. Lathlean, 2008).
Our own research has confirmed that these mentorship diffi-
culties (Ralph, 1994; Ralph & Walker, 2010) could be reduced
*Corresponding author.
by the application of the Adaptive Mentorship model(Ralph &
Walker, 2011a), which we formerly called Contextual Supervi-
sion or CS (Ralph, 1998, 2005); and which we derived from
earlier contingency and situational leadership approaches (e.g.,
Hersey & Blanchard, 1988; Fiedler & Garcia, 1987). We assert
that AM has potential for application in any mentorship situa-
tion in any field (Ralph & Walker, 2011b, 2013; Ralph, Walker,
& Wimmer, 2009). In this article we summarize findings re-
garding AM’s efficacy, and we invite interested mentorship
leaders to consider whether this evidence warrants their possi-
ble implementation of the model.
The Adaptive Mentorship© Model
Adaptive Mentorship© is a model that guides mentors in ad-
justing their mentoring responses to appropriately match the
task-specific development level of protégés whom they are as-
sisting in the learning/working situation (Ralph & Walker,
2011b, 2012). We depict the AM model in Figure 1.
The outer border of the diagram represents the entire physi-
cal, psychological, social, organizational, and cultural context
within which the mentorship process functions. Many of these
influences cannot be changed by the mentor or the protégé;
however, the aspect that they can control is their own behav-
our. Thus, mentors can modify their mentorship action, which
consist of two dimensions shown in Figure 1: 1) their “task”
response (i.e., the degree of specific direction given to the pro-
tégé regarding the technical, mechanical, or procedural aspect
of the latter’s performance of the task being learned); and 2)
their “support” response (i.e., the degree of “human” or psycho/
social/emotional expression they provide the protégé learning
the skill-set).
By contrast, the factor over which protégés have most control
is their task-specific developmental level. It likewise consists of
two dimensions: their “competence” level (i.e., their actual
technical ability to perform the task in question), and their
“confidence” level (i.e., their degree of self-assurance, compo-
sure, psychological comfort, and security and/or safety in per-
forming the skill-set).
The heart of the AM model is represented by the shaded ar-
rows linking the D- and A-grids, which portray the mentor’s
matching of one of four typical “A” (adaptive) responses with a
similarly numbered “D” (developmental) level characterizing
the protégé’s performance of the particular skill/competency.
Of course, there are many more than four positions within each
grid, because there is a host of possible A/D combinations.
However, for conceptual/analytical purposes, we highlighted
these four combinations simply to reflect types within each
Implementing Adaptive Mentorship©
Applying AM consists of the following three phases.
Edwin Ralph & Keith Walker
Figure 1.
The Adaptive Mentorship© model. The mentor synchronizes his/her adaptive re sponse indicated in the A-grid to appropr iat ely match the
ask-specific developmental level of the protégé sho w n i n t he D-grid (Ralph, 1998; Ralph & Walker, 2011a, 2012) . t
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Determining the Protégé’s Development
First, the protégé/mentor pair ascertains the existing devel-
opment level of the protégé to perform a specific skill-set being
learned at the time. As illustrated in the “D-grid”, a protégé’s
task-specific level of development consists of both his/her com-
petence and his/her confidence levels to perform the task. The
D1 quadrant reflects an individual with “low competence” and
“high confidence” to accomplish the task (i.e., he/she does not
know exactly how to perform it, but is confident, willing, and
eager to try). A protégé at D2 is low on both competence and
confidence; a protégé at D3 shows higher competence and
lower confidence; while a protégé at D4 is high on both dimen-
sions for the particular skill-set.
A protégé’s developmental level may be identified: 1) by the
mentor’s formal and informal observations of the protégé’s
actual performance of the skill/task; 2) by the pairs’ informal
conversations about the protégé’s D-level; and 3) by the pro-
tégé’s answers to the mentor’s direct questions about his/her
progress. D-levels are: task-specific; changeable over-time; dif-
ferent for different skill-sets; and temporary indicators of a pro-
tégé’s stage at a specific point in time (Ralph, 1998, 2000a,
2005; Ralph & Walker, 2011a, 2011b).
Synchronizing the Mentor’s Response
Next, the mentor appropriately adjusts his/her mentorship
response to match the existing D-level of the protégé regarding
the particular competency: A1 matches D1, A2 matches D2,
and so on. The mentor’s “A” adaptive-response also has two
dimensions: the degree of support the mentor provides (i.e., the
psycho-emotional aspects of encouragement, reinforcement,
and praise to bolster the protégé as he/she attempts to develop
the particular skill-set). Support consists of genuinely positive
words and/or actions, and varies along a continuum.
The other A-element is task (i.e., how directive the mentor is
toward the protégé regarding his/her technical or mechanical
prowess in the task), which also varies along a continuum,
ranging for example, from telling, to demonstrating, to sug-
gesting, to questioning, or to delegating with respect to the
protégé’s skill-specific technique.
The key principle for the mentor to correctly match the A
and D quadrants is that his/her task response must be inverse in
magnitude to the extent of the protégé’s competence level; and
simultaneously, the extent of the mentor’s support is similarly
inversely proportional to the novice’s level of confidence for
particular task.
Monitoring the Protégé’s Development
Then, the mentorship pair continually and mutually monitors
the protégé’s ongoing level of development, which necessitates
that the mentor simultaneously adjusts his/her adaptive re-
sponse to match, in inverse proportions, the protégé’s changing
development level(s).
Research Results
During the past 23 years we and other mentorship scholars
and practitioners have conducted research investigating the
effectiveness of the AM model in a variety of mentorship set-
tings. We summarize this research in two categories: early and
recent phases.
Early Research
From 1990 to 2005, we conducted research on the model,
which we first called Contextual Supervision (CS) within ex-
tended-practicum (internship) programs of teacher education
(Ralph, 1991, 1993a, 1998, 2004, 2005). Our several reports
have documented the model’s application, the research results,
the subsequent refinements, and the caveats for implementing
the model (Ralph, 1992, 1994, 1996, 2000, 2002b). We gath-
ered data from mentors and protégés who used the model re-
garding their respective readings of self- and partner-locations
on the two A and D grids of the model, as they progressed
through the mentorship cycle. By recording these respective
plottings at different times during the learning period, we were
able to determine the developmental changes/adaptations of
each partner throughout the practicum. That research presented
the following findings: 1) AM helped mentors clarify their con-
ceptualization of the whole mentoring process; 2) it replaced a
“one-size-fits-all” approach by allowing mentors to vary their
adaptive behaviour according to the developmental needs of
their protégés; 3) it was intuitively appealing and relatively
easy to learn; 4) it offered mentors a tool to help analyze and
alleviate mentoring conflicts; and 5) it revealed that such rela-
tionship problems were often the result of mentors mismatching
their adaptive responses with protégés’ task-specific develop-
mental levels (Ralph, 1993b, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002a).
At the same time, however, we also found that there was a
small but persistent degree of mismatching between mentor
response and protégé developmental level. Ideally, if the AM
model functioned perfectly there would be a 100% agreement
of matching of D and A quadrants; yet, some of our previous
research (Ralph, 2004, 2005) showed that the mismatching
phenomenon could be reduced if the program provided partici-
pants with more workshop time to become acquainted with the
model, and if the college-based advisor made more deliberate
reference to the model during mentoring seminars and site-
Recent Research
We continued to apply the AM model in our teacher-educa-
tion internships (Ralph, Walker, & Wimmer, 2007, 2009, 2010),
but we also sought to broaden its application in other profes-
sional disciplines (Posner, 2004; Watt, 1998). In 2007, as a
conesquence of our receipt of a public-outreach grant from the
Social Sciences and Humanities research Council of Canada we
were able to disseminate the AM model both by means of
workshop presentations and publications describing the model
and its research results.
Results from a Variety of Professions
From 2007 to the present we have continued to apply the
model in our own mentorship of novice teachers during their
extended-practicum programs, and we have also been more
widely distributing the model through public presentations and
scholarly publications (Ralph & Walker, 2011a, 2012). As a
result of these dissemination efforts, leaders from several other
professional disciplines have implemented the AM model. Re-
cent reports documenting these experiences were: 1) applying it
in undergraduate advisory programs (Chrosniak, Ralph, &
Walker, 2013); using it to mentor university students in EAL
programs (Khoii, 2011); adapting it for teacher-candidates com-
pleting their extended-practicum (Chin & Kutsyuruba, 2011);
adapting it to guide young adults through developmental life
stages (Pullman, 2011); mentoring student nurses (Jennings &
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 23
Couture, 2011); implementing it within a medicine/nurse-prac-
titioner mentorship program (Ralph & Shaw, 2011); adapting it
for undergraduate pharmacy students (Hawrysh, 2011); em-
ploying it to enhance the mentorship of business students (Pos-
ner, 2004); adapting it to enhance a dietetic preceptors’ men-
torship program (Haskey, Floer, Walker, & Ralph, in press);
and adapting it to fit mentorship conducted in cross-cultural
settings (Johansson-Fua, Ruru, Sanga, Walker, & Ralph, 2013;
Johansson-Fua, Sanga, Walker, & Ralph, 2011; Ruru, Sanga,
Walker, & Ralph, in press).
The results of these research reports confirmed many of our
earlier findings, one of which was that the AM model offers
mentoring partners a sensible and sensitive frame work to con-
ceptualize mentorship as a developmental process. A second
point of agreement among most AM users was that this process
proved most effective when mentors adapted the degree of
support and guidance they offered to meet the variable learning
needs of their protégés. By contrast, the quality of mentorship
was shown to be less effective when there was a mismatch
between these elements. A third finding was that although most
AM participants acknowledged the clarity provided for their
overall understanding of the mentoring process, they still wan-
ted freedom to adapt and/or modify the model as needed in
order to fit the unique contexts and idiosyncratic conditions
connected to their particular work settings and/or cultures. They
expressed reluctance at being unnecessarily tied to rigid proce-
dures or structures that did not reflect their organizational back-
grounds (Johansson-Fua, Sanga, Walker, & Ralph, 2011; Ruru,
Sanga, Walker, & Ralph, in press).
Results from Panels of Experts
At the time of writing this article, we had conducted 48
Adaptive Mentorship dissemination forums, workshops, or
presentations at scholarly conferences, professional seminars,
practitioner meetings, or academic conventions in eight coun-
tries. At these gatherings that ranged from one hour to two days
in length, we typically described the AM model, its rationale,
its application, and its research record. Also at these sessions,
we collected feedback from a total of 573 respondents con-
cerning the AM model, who represented a wide range of pro-
fessions and occupations from the educational, industrial, and
governmental sectors. Those respondents were workshop at-
tendees, and who accepted our invitation to serve as members
of “panels of experts” (Srinivasan, Straus, & Adams, 2011;
Wiersma & Jurs, 2008), by virtue of the fact that they were all
scholars, researchers, or practitioners experienced in the proc-
ess of mentoring within their respective fields. As panel mem-
bers, they responded to two questions on a survey we circulated
at the conclusion of each workshop: 1) What to you are the
positive aspects of AM, and 2) What are the challenging as-
pects? The findings we derived from our analysis of these ex-
pert panels’ responses (Ralph & Walker, 2013) again confirmed
many of the previous AM results cited above. We noted in
these data that all pane lists identified one or more positive fea-
tures of the model; and that, overall, they provided twice as
many positive elements as they did challenging ones. We sum-
marize the main response-categories that emerged from this
study, below, and we also include sample comments in paren-
theses, which illustrate typical perspectives.
The three categories having the largest numbers of positive
aspects that panels identified were that the AM model: 1) pro-
vided a logical conceptual map of the entire mentorship enter-
prise (“It gives a simple and clear identification of where pairs
are at and how to generate discussion to address action”); 2)
helped mentors guide protégés’ learning (“It shows how the
mentor should adapt her style to match the learner’s stage”);
and 3) promoted the growth of both partners (“I like the idea of
open conversation between both the protégé and mentor, as to
where each is at and what they need from one another”).
The three largest categories of challenge that panel lists iden-
tified regarding the AM model were that AM leaders must be
careful to: 1) provide adequate time for partners to become
familiar with using the model (“To me, both the mentor and
protégé would need training to understand the model and to
effectively implement it”); 2) recognize that some partners may
resist the model (“The hierarchy relationship may cause diffi-
culty for the mentor or protégé to be honest”); and 3) acknowl-
edge the existence of unforeseen barriers or conditions that
might reduce the model’s efficacy (“I think AM may be seen by
some as too simplistic, because there are more factors at play
than just the protégé’s confidence and competence, i.e., you
might have to expand it beyond the 2 windows you show”).
To this point in our research into Adaptive Mentorship, the
accumulated evidence suggests that it is a viable model that can
clarify understanding and provide guidance to individuals using
it in their mentoring practice. Like any conceptual model in the
social sciences, however (Zais, 1975), it is imperfect and it has
advantages and disadvantages. Nevertheless, the results tend to
confirm that its benefits outweigh its limitations. In this light,
we believe that the following comment submitted by a member
of one of the expert panels in New Zealand aptly described the
efficacy of the AM model: “It is situational and contextual,
providing mentors with a framework for thinking about their
approach to their protégés. It is very “protégé-centric” and lets
mentors adapt/tailor their style to meet the needs of their men-
We conclude by inviting interested mentorship leaders to
examine these results as they consider whether to adapt AM to
enhance their respective mentorship programs.
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