The Jeep Wave

January 31, 2023

by Stephen T. Messenger

If you watch closely on the roads, Jeep owners always signal each other. Called the Jeep Wave, this casual acknowledgment is a way to build camaraderie among their brand and foster a community spirit.

It started in World War II, where soldiers riding in jeeps would wave at each other instead of salute to prevent enemy spies from identifying officers. After the war, many veterans purchased Jeeps. This wave then became a way to recognize fellow veterans and acknowledge their service.

To Wave or Not to Wave

Now, I’m originally from Philly. If someone waves at you from their car it’s with one finger.

But driving around Fort McCoy, a smaller Army installation surrounded by rural towns, I’ve seen more people than I expected waving as they pass—and using all their fingers! This is just a Wisconsinite gesture of friendliness, Jeep or no Jeep.

Well, when in Rome… I’ve found myself now waving and smiling at every car I pass on the installation. As the Commander, most people are starting to know my vehicle anyway. I get about a 60% return wave, and it feels good to somehow connect with whichever hardworking American I’m passing.

The Time There Was No Wave

At one of my previous assignments, we had a high-ranking visitor within our chain-of-command arrive. Each section leader was to walk this gentleman through their spaces and introduce him to everyone. I did a few mental rehearsals, knew what I was going to say about each person, and was ready to go.

Upon arrival, and to my surprise, he barely stopped to say hi to anyone. He brushed right past with a rough hello and kept moving. The team wasn’t devastated, but it was certainly a topic of conversation that this man was perceived to not care about the people in his formation.

Of course, this leader cared about his people, but his actions didn’t show it that day. I’m sure he was just distracted, or rushed, or short on time—but no one knows this in the moment.

The Times I Don’t Wave

This got me thinking: How many times do I miss the wave? How many times do I as a leader walk by someone without acknowledging their existence? How many times am I the topic of conversation on how the boss walked right by without saying a word?

This is tough. I have over 500 people working for the installation and hundreds of others that enable our organization on a daily basis. To stop and have a conversation with each one is nearly impossible while still being productive at all that day.

How to Wave to Everyone

The Jeep brand has it right. The CEO of Jeep, now Stellantis, doesn’t have to wave at every single person, every single day. Instead, Jeep has developed a culture where every person who owns a Jeep is on a mission to connect with each other.

They ride around and mentally unite in their sphere. It’s not solely on the CEO to develop a brand of inclusivity and camaraderie, but it’s incumbent on every person to connect with each other.

None of us can wait on the CEO to do this. We have to do it in our sphere of influence.

Leaders must encourage everyone in the organization to connect with those they work with every single day. If the entire organization makes it a point to build bridges and lift each other up with a simple passing conversation and genuine appreciation to see the other person, the entire team benefits.

The McCoy Wave

I make it a point now to wave and smile at every car I pass, and I try to never walk by a cubicle in an office without saying a quick hello. Now know, I fail often because I usually have to be somewhere. But these little gestures by everyone can go a long way to build organizational culture.

The Jeep Wave is a metaphor for connection and extends well outside our windshield. Leaders need to connect with their people and foster an environment where they continuously improve relationships with each other. We are stronger together.

Next time you see someone in your organization on the road, in the office, or passing by, I encourage you to briefly connect with a wave, a smile or a quick conversation. And encourage others to do the same. Build a culture where we care about each other, no matter how small that gesture is.

A little wave goes a long way.

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