Hile Rutledge
Trainer, author

Hile Rutledge

CEO and owner of OKA (Otto Kroeger Associates), a training and consulting firm specializing in leadership and team development.

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Effective mentorship

Q: Can former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, who is hugely popular among conservative Republicans, help her former running mate John McCain hold onto his Arizona Senate seat? How often do proteges eclipse the success of their mentors?

Last week, John McCain, who is now in a primary race in Arizona for the U.S. Senate, asked Sarah Palin to come to Arizona to stump for him. At this point, Palin is the biggest draw and best fund-raiser in the Republican party, and while it is hard to believe, she was virtually unknown two years ago when John McCain tapped her to be his vice presidential running mate.

It is to McCain's credit that he would ask his former protégé to come help him out. I believe we are seeing with McCain and Palin a very good example of mentorship.

The relationship between mentor and protégé is complex and, if developed well, mutually beneficial for both. Most mentor/protégé relationships start off with a clear differential in power and experience -- and sometimes maturity. However, as the protégé's expertise grows the relationship often shifts, and should, to allow for a connection that acknowledges the junior's growth and development.

I am attached to a leadership development project with the United States Air Force now in its fifth year that is tasked with helping -- through training and coaching -- military training instructors to be able to shift from the "shock and awe" styles that they need with brand new recruits to a more nurturing, mentor role later in the process as recruits are graduated to airmen. The airmen that these instructors are producing will become the future leaders of the Air Force, and it is the successful and effective training instructor who can acknowledge this and make the necessary relational shift.

If mentors transact only intellectual or organizational power with their protégés, they will stunt or cap the relationship and never allow that protégé to be anything other than junior -- a framing that stands to hurt the mentor as much as the protégé. If they not only allow for but nurture the relationship, they can create not only the next great mind, but a growing network.

Many effective mentor/protégé relationships even evolve to a point where the protégé surpasses in knowledge or ability that of the former mentor. We may have gotten a good glimpse of this last week in Arizona, when Palin campaigned for McCain. It is the wise mentor who knows that he is not just helping out a junior, but building and strengthening the network that will support his efforts into the future.

By Hile Rutledge  |  April 1, 2010; 12:00 AM ET  | Category:  Mentors Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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It is sad how angry these comments are, and how unrelated they are to the actual post. This was a post about mentors and protégés - and no matter how much you folks clearly dislike McCain and Palin - pretending that you know what either learned from each other, or what their internal learning process and motivations are, is really ill informed. I am not a fan of either McCain or Palin, but the kind of bitterness expressed in these comments is very sad to see. A bit of respect - and better moderation by the Post to ensure that comments are actually, you know, comments and not self-serving rants - seems in order.

Posted by: chickcomment | April 5, 2010 1:57 PM
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The premise that there is anything to this McCain-Palin thing. To consider that there was anything of Mentor/Protege going is laughable and only betrays the total ignorance of this writer (which I don't think so) or the writer is playing the sycophant card. Whatever awe and admiration I had for this senile old coot, has vanished way back in 2002/2004. Why I lost it, when I watched his brown-nosing of the Bush. Now he is a pathetic man who is clinging for power. He is a man who has shed his scruples one at a time. Whenever I see him on the TV, I see a miserable leper with all his four limbs amputated and is dragging the wheeled platform he sits on, with nubs of his hand bandaged, going for his final humiliation - castration. He is a pathetic. And for Ms. Palin, she is an empty vessel, but a very cunning and self aggrandizing women, who is driven by pure avarice. She does not even care about power, all she cares is to make hay while sun shines. She is just a professional, used in the sense of someone tending the oldest profession.

Posted by: Secular | April 2, 2010 8:22 PM
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Mr. Rutledge, while your positive take on this is admirable, it also seems naive. Your suggestion that the McCain/Palin relationship is that of mentor/apprentice is based upon the logic that Palin is capable of being mentored (she is not), and the assumption that McCain is simply acting the part of "the wise mentor who knows that he is not just helping out a junior" (he is not). McCain is in a very difficult primary race in Arizona, and is using Palin to appeal to the far right, which is Hayworth's base. He needs Palin more than she needs him, which, if you were to ask her, is not at all.

The only point in your premise that I agreed with was that McCain, in using Palin, is thereby "building and strengthening the network that will support his efforts into the future".

Posted by: borntorun45 | April 2, 2010 5:42 PM
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While I agree that he did not mentor her and that she will never surpass him, to get to the point, I think frequently people surpass their mentors. It is easiest seen in sports where there is an objective criterion -- the mentored coaches a team that beats the mentor. Politics is too subjective so opinions based on how one feels about the candidate and his or her position is a problem since they rarely would run against each other.

That being said, I think he did make her in that were it not for JMcC, nobody south of Canada would have ever heard of SP and she would still be governor of Alaska. So when he was being attacked from the right by an ex-sportscaster, he called in the chit that she owed him so he would have a ultra consrvative ex-sportscaster of his own. I think SP's natural tendency would be to support JDH but she owed JMcC one and she is paying off. Also betting on JMcC's winning record there coupled with the right wingers who will follow her will get McC elected over a guy who was already voted out of office by his constiuents in AZ. Now JMcC will owe her one and expect her to call it in in 2012.

Posted by: TomfromNJ1 | April 2, 2010 4:41 PM
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Kinda like the Karate Kid...another of her intellectual superiors...

Posted by: tepes | April 2, 2010 11:14 AM
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McCain wasn't being the "wise mentor" by bringing palin to Arizona. He was being the tired, old republican bull that is losing his status to a younger candidate. He lost his bid for president, he was down in the polls against hayworth so he has to try once again to boost his chances of winning with palin. McCain should just go gracefully into private life to reflect on his past accomplishments and not keep trying to so hard to be what he once was.

Posted by: monel7191 | April 2, 2010 10:15 AM
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Oh please. McCain didn't "mentor" Palin. He didn't know her from Adam when he picked her and only a fool would claim he taught her anything of importance whatsoever.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | April 2, 2010 9:05 AM
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Yeah well in this case, there's no way Palin is going to pass McCain (or anyone) with her knowledge nor intelligence.

Posted by: cmecyclist | April 2, 2010 7:40 AM
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