Principle of mentoring

The following article presents a summary of my ideas on the principle of mentoring.


The principle of mentoring is presented on the Kōan problem of the Zen tradition “A cup of tea” with the following story:

Nan-in, a Japanese teacher during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to ask about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s glass full, then continued to serve.
The teacher watched the overflow until he could no longer contain himself. «It’s full. They won’t go in anymore!»
«Like this mug,» Nan-in said, «you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you empty your mug first?»

(Neruda & Dōkyō, 2018)

This story embodies tree key concepts of the relationship between a mentor and a mentee.

  • First, both parties come willingly to the conversation.
  • Second, the mentee (the professor) must realize this is a mentor (Nan-in) not a master, who will share an experience not teach skills and knowledge.
  • Finally, both realized mentoring is a collaboration.

This was also embodied by Plutarch’s when he said:

«The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be lit.»


These excerpts illustrate some of the stories that lead me to my conception of mentoring.

Distinguishing mentorship.

Before going forward mentoring must be distinguish from the following concepts:

  • Master-Apprentice
  • Coaching
  • Tutoring
  • Teacher-student
  • Facilitating 
  • Leader-follower

The mentee seeks a mentor to emulate their experiences. However the mentee has to take an equal position in the collaboration.

The mentor must recognize they have the experience and the capacity and willingness to share it. However the mentor must agree to this and take on a specific set of practices different from leaders, masters, coaches, or facilitators. 

Also, I believe that the mentor must utilize the following best practices.

Key elements of the principle of mentoring.

  1. The mentor prioritizes the development of the mentee by investing human capital in the collaboration.
  2. The process of the mentoring action must be a structured dialogue where the reflection is facilitated by the mentor and the analysis is carried out by the mentee.
  3. The mentoring relationship must be based on collaboration, trust, confidentiality, fairness, and sensitivity.
  4. The mentor-mentee relationship should be made explicit within agreed limits and basic rules that delimit the power differences between the participants.
  5. The mentor must allow and encourage the responsibility of self-reflection on the part of the mentee.
  6. A mentor should help the mentee to identify goals that are based on clear and measurable objectives and to establish strategic priorities for personal growth.
  7. The mentor must recognize the benefits of reverse mentoring, that is, the benefits he gains from learning from the mentee.
  8. The mentor should encourage the mentee to aspire to mentor others in the future.

Conclusion: Beyond the individual.

Every mentor serves the mentee and can mentor more than one person and this collaboration is individualized for each of the mentees that enter into the relationship. In turn, the mentee gives back to the mentor as well as serves new upcoming individuals.

I believe mentoring is a core principle of my activities, it must exist as part of each person’s social responsibility.

It serves as a central block in achieving collaborative change.

Through these, individuals and organizations come together to achieve collective impact and systemic change.


If you want to cite this blog article, please use the following:

León, C. (2020, junio 18). Principle of mentoring. Cristo León´s blog.


If you want to download an accessible PDF copy of this blog article, use the following link:ón.pdf


Neruda, N., & Dōkyō, M. (2018). 101 Zen Koans: Short Stories for Daily Zen. Independently published.