The Secret Power of “A Yellow Bird”

Last week on the Wells Fargo trading floor in Charlotte, North Carolina, I was in a giddy mood after a profitable bond trade and decided to celebrate by singing a little “happy” song.

I don’t know why, since it has been over 21 years since I departed the military, but I picked a classic Army “Jody” called “A Yellow Bird”.

With a smile on my face, I started singing out loud…

“A yellow bird,
With a yellow bill…”

For the readers who did not serve in the United States military, cadences called by marching or running soldiers are often dubbed “Jodys” or “Jody calls”. This name “Jody” refers to a fictional civilian character, the soldier’s nemeses, who stays back home to indulge in a perceived life of luxury while the soldier is off to war.

Jody drives the soldier’s car, dates the soldier’s girlfriend, parties with the soldier’s buddies, and of course, eats mom’s great cooking.

Think back to the popular movies “Stripes”, “An Officer and a Gentleman”, and “Full Metal Jacket”, where the themes in Jody Calls included home sickness, complaints about military life, boasts about combat exploits, insults of other units, and of course, humorous (and sometimes crude) references.


But back to my story on the trading floor…

Next to me was another Wells Fargo team member named Casey Carroll, a former U.S. Army Ranger who was eleven years old when I got out of the service in 1996. We trained at different installations, never served in the same unit, and had vastly different jobs in the military.

As I proceeded with the “Jody”, Casey continued to look at his computer screen, but smiled and immediately joined in the Jody without missing a beat…

“A yellow bird,
With a yellow bill,
Was sittin’ on,
My window sill,
I lured him in,
With a peace of bread
And then I smashed his (Stomp once) little head!”

(OK, please realize that this is a fictional little yellow bird, so no hate mail please.)

It was hilarious, and we laughed for a few minutes, amazed that one silly song could bridge the generation gap of two veterans who happened to be working next to each other. We both understood at that very moment, the power of “A Yellow Bird” connection.

It reminded me of the importance of bridging differences between human beings, and how simple it can be to find common bonds if we just focus on learning more about the people we meet at work or in social situations.

Historically, the military has been a leader in creating highly functioning teams, formed with members from all walks of life. This includes demographic diversity, but also people from urban, rural and suburban upbringings, and the spectrum of social-economic groups. They do it by creating a common experience, usually basic training, which is the first place where the Jodys are used to instill a sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps.

When you sing a Jody, it connects you to the unit, fortifies the soul, and helps a soldier to tolerate physical and mental hardship. It unites, and inspires the collective group to go further than the individual members. The foundation is solidified by a common overarching purpose; to defend the nation.

When Casey effortlessly joined me in this silly Jody, it highlighted a common bond. So, how can you, and civilian organizations replicate the military’s proven formula for building bonds?

Demonstrate a genuine interest in learning about the people you come in contact with, beyond the specific reason for your engagement. Inquire about their childhood, current interests and activities. Inquire about the family, and share your information.

The questions may vary, but the intent is the same: To identify common bonds and experiences that you may share.

Focus on identifying and mentoring young people who have demonstrated the “yellow bird attributes” of camaraderie, team work, loyalty, respect and the ability to connect with different people. Look for indications on their resumes about involvement in activities outside of the classroom, such college social clubs, community involvement, volunteer work and athletic participation.

If you are an employer, consider hiring veterans: There is a steady stream of highly motivated veterans who have demonstrated the ability to work in highly functioning, diverse teams, and are now seeking opportunities with good firms to transition into long-term employees. Wells Fargo is committed to veterans transition, and our bank leadership has established the goal of 20,000 veterans as team members by 2020.

If you are interested in learning about successful veteran transition stories, go to “Beyond The Uniform”, a wonderful website run by Justin Nasari (graduate of the Naval Academy, Stanford Business School, and former Nuclear Submarine Officer). The website delivers amazing storytelling via professionally produced pod-casts.

If you work for a small-medium sized business and need assistance connecting with high potential veterans, connect with Jean South of HireServed. She has the commitment, experience, relationships and knowledge to guide you through the process.

If you are seking transformative advice to develop exceptional senior leaders, I would suggest connecting with David Deanne-Spread of Metattude, a former Australian commissioned officer with a deep reservoir of wisdom on “the yellow bird” attributes.

Participate in group activities. All individuals and organizations benefit from improved teamwork and a focus on the higher purpose. And although it may be difficult to replicate the military experience, we can connect people to common experiences in the form of team building exercises, or fun group offsite adventures.

America, and the world, is at its’ best when people from different walks of life can join in and sing a silly “Jody” like “A Yellow Bird”, smile and laugh effortlessly.

One thought on “The Secret Power of “A Yellow Bird”

  1. Your memory also brings forth the long standing tradition of passing the Jody song from one generation to another. The values of each service has not change.

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