Mentoring and Gratitude

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Those lucky enough to have a mentor typically speak highly of him or her. Often, even decades after a mentoring relationship ends, the participants’ bond remains strong. Generally, both the mentor and the mentee have learned a great deal from each other, and it’s worthwhile for each of them to express what they’ve gained from the relationship.

The Importance of Saying Thanks
When I was in the Air Force, I had a mentor who was known as “the colonel” (as if there was only one in the entire Air Force). She was tough, but everyone respected her. When she retired from the Air Force, we lost contact. But after a decade or so, I reconnected with her and went to visit her in San Diego while on a business trip. I wanted to make sure she knew what a huge, positive impact she’d had on me. I wanted to be sure she understood the depth of my gratitude. I’m so glad I did. The colonel passed away about six months later.

Sometimes, junior advisers haven’t had the life experience to realize just how important expressing gratitude can be. I was leading a program with a group of junior advisers recently, and a concluding activity was to write a thank-you note to their mentor. This simple exercise presented new learning opportunities for the participants—and for me!

  • First, I learned that composing a handwritten thank-you note may be an unfamiliar experience for millennials, who have grown up with instant messaging and texting. For this group, even an email may seem like an outdated form of communication.
  • Second, no matter your age, it’s all too easy to jot down a banal one-sentence thank-you as opposed to expressing what you’re genuinely grateful for.
  • Third, personalizing the message with something specific or unique to the individual recipient makes the difference between a note that’s hastily read and tossed aside and a note that’s saved indefinitely.

A Dying Art
Remembering a specific incident, restating timely words the mentor spoke just when the mentee needed to hear them, or describing the impact of a certain action the mentor took are all great ways to make a thank-you note memorable. (Isn’t it interesting that they’re also good approaches to communicate in a memorable way with clients?)

In our busy world, good intentions regularly beat out actions. The art of the well-written, sincere thank-you note is disappearing. That would be a loss for tenured advisers and millennials alike.

Joni YoungwirthJoni Youngwirth
Managing Principal of Practice Management
Commonwealth Financial Network
Waltham, Mass.

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