The Empathetic Heart: How The CHO of VaynerMedia Is Changing The Way We Work

A month after I had joined LinkedIn back in July of 2018 I sent Claude Silver a connection request and began following her content. One day she made a post saying “Ask and you shall receive, what can I do to help you today?”

I commented on that post asking for a 5 minute interview and to my surprise she agreed by asking me to send her a message (I was given a full hour). This was the first example of pure kindness I witnessed from Claude. For the past year I have been following her content and engaging with the individuals who have crossed her path.

Claude’s content drew me in  because of how emotionally real it was. If you’ve ever had to drag yourself out of bed, start your car mid-winter and drive to work holding onto an ice-cold steering wheel, just to be greeted by a boss that doesn’t value you… you’ll appreciate Claude’s work as much as I do.

The first message you see on Claude’s website is: People need people. People need people that listen and then do something.

That message spoke to me on an emotional level and I believe it will speak to you too. I wanted to know how she created such an amazing culture, what being a “culture carrier” meant, and how the employees at VaynerMedia had been changed by her work there.

A culture carrier in Claude’s own words is “someone who is aligned with our values, I can’t teach someone to be kind they have to already be kind. The process of developing a culture carrier takes about 6 months. It’s about bringing people together and having strong core values of kindness and empathy.”

Gary Vaynerchuk, co-founder of VaynerMedia, is often referred to as a combination of hustle and heart, with the hiring of Claude and the work she has accomplished within the company, it speaks to the level of empathy that can be felt throughout the entire operation. Although business can be a challenging, tough and often cut-throat terrain, by putting employees first and providing honest feedback the company has grown to include offices in New York, Chattanooga, Los Angeles and London, and continues to dominate the market.

So how exactly is the CHO of VaynerMedia changing the way we work?

  1. By being unafraid to share her own story

Claude has been an influential part of breaking the stigma surrounding vulnerability in the business arena. Not only does she openly share her own story but she sits down with employees to better understand their vulnerabilities and how to use characteristics that previously would have been considered weaknesses as strengths. When asked what her biggest adventure to date was she replied “Having Shalom (her daughter). I have had an amazing life, I moved, worked hard, landed an amazing job and fell in love but it didn’t come without it’s challenges”.

Claude is openly gay and is living proof it doesn’t matter your sexual orientation, nothing matters but your character, your track record and if you leave people a little better off than before you met them. From Claude, business  leaders, employees and entrepreneurs can learn to be more open both on social media and in person, allowing them to build more meaningful relationships and connect on a deeper level. A deeper connection can mean more leverage but it also means a more lasting impact on the world.

2.  Committing to a strong value system

VaynerMedia has some serious values for such a large company and those values are expected to be upheld by each and every employee and visitor. Values like kindness, empathy, honesty, hustle and the art of not complaining. With Claude holding the title of Chief Heart Officer she is the guiding light for others. When recruiting she says she “takes the time to evaluate an individuals talents but most importantly their own heart”.

Gary Vaynerchuk is quoted as saying:

“To me, there’s no debate that kindness is a strength. And it breaks my heart to know that so many people believe it’s a weakness. So many people are afraid that other people will take advantage of their kindness or make them feel “used.” But the truth is, those who take advantage of your kindness are weak on the inside. Feel bad for them, don’t let them make you feel bad about yourself”.  

Both Claude and Gary teach aspiring entrepreneurs that it is okay to live with an open heart and that having the strength to commit too and live with a strong value system will be a powerful tool during the hustle journey. It also allows you to go to bed at night actually liking the person that you are, nothing will kill a business faster than going to bed at night and hating yourself.

3.  Listening with action

As mentioned above Claude’s slogan is: People need people. People need people that listen and then do something.  As a woman who wears many hats she is also an Outward Bound Instructor, taking individuals on amazing adventures in the outdoors. Taking action on any given day can mean a number of different things but it speaks to her own character and driving force that she is able to not only guide people through the world of office politics but also through the serene, sometimes challenging wilderness.

Claude cultivates an environment of trust by first offering individuals her own trust. It is a huge and vulnerable action that leads to a relationship of love – heart – and productivity. Rich Cardona founder of Flybys Media and Host of Flashpoint shares the moment he connected with Claude, ” I will never forget when Claude said ‘I trust you’. It meant so much to me, for her to trust me and allow me to be a part of her journey”.  The two now share a deeply personal bond as Rich documents Claude’s process.

Listening as an action is something that has the power to change an entire organization from an unproductive, toxic environment to one that promotes creativity, passion, inclusion and positivity.

claude-silver-e1542220576411

To get the truest sense of how Claude was changing the way people work I asked her co-workers to tell me what working alongside Claude has done for them. These are the answers I received:

“During my time working alongside Claude, I’ve really come to appreciate her example of being a good listener. As a society, we tend to praise the power of speaking. But Claude demonstrates on a daily basis that the most important thing everybody wants is to be heard.” – Steve Babcock, Chief Creative Officer VaynerMedia

“If I could say one thing about Claude that I think is a little under the radar, it’s that I admire her relationship with our CEO. I have a great one with Gary as well, but she is intrinsically wired to him. I think every person at every company should want to have a relationship with their CEO, and I think their relationship is there for all to see and emulate. I suppose in a lot of ways, you couldn’t have a Chief Heart Officer, without that person being deeply connected to the CEO.” – Joe Quattrone, Senior Vice President VaynerMedia

“Work is life; your passion should eventually become your profession to achieve true fulfillment.” – James Orsini, President at The Sasha Group

 

I tried looking for images of Claude on her website…and I think it speaks to how focused she is on holding space for others, because I couldn’t find a single full sized image of her to use. I googled. Writing this piece has opened me up to evaluate my own values and the way I connect with people in my daily life. From this piece it is my own hope that entrepreneurs come to the understanding that although tenacity and true grit are really important, the whole of what Claude represents is something to strive towards and to truly impact an entire organization the “soft” skills are humongous strengths.

“Holding space for others is something I enjoy, it is where I feel I am most living in my purpose. Gary and I see people as hearts, we don’t see people as resources.” – Claude Silver.

 

Carlee Lloyd

 

An Open Letter To Claude Silver

Dear Claude,

I hope you don’t mind the transparent nature of this letter but you have, in no small way, changed the way I look at life. If one person here on this blog or any other platform reads this and it gets straight to the heart of them, then perhaps our vulnerability will be worth it.

You Claude, are an infectious masterpiece. Through osmosis your energy commands those around you to be truer to themselves, perhaps more so than they have been in the entirety of the past decade of their lives.

You have taken risk upon risk and found yourself, with every credit to who you are at your core, stronger than before. You are as Tom Bilyeu so magically talked about in his keynote, anti-fragile. At first I thought you might have seen me, the real me… which would have been quite an incredible thing over the phone don’t you think? Now I know it was more like a mirror. Now I know we all have the capability to be mirrors.

By simply being yourself and living your life you shine so brightly that other people are able to see their true reflections, and I believe moments, epiphanies as some might call them, happen serendipitously for reasons unknown, but when used correctly have the power to change the course of one’s destiny.

Because of you I have become an overzealous fan of giving for the sake of giving, and building others up with the simple reward of seeing them smile. I read Brene Brown’s book on vulnerability, but never have I seen it displayed so openly in one single human being. You have cemented in me the unwavering belief that vulnerability builds real connection and that it is the catalyst for change we all are so desperately seeking. Vulnerability, kindness, empathy… that is the future.

As I write this over a borrowed laptop, coffee in hand, I know that from Canada to the United States you have made a friend in me. Social media has allowed me many truly real connections, and I wonder if the people who are so against it have ever really connected with someone using a platform, or had the chance to speak with someone they greatly admire because of it.

Your content and your message give me hope for the future of work, people and communities because if there are more people like you, which I believe there are, this world has a fighting chance at happiness, and that is a beautiful thing. Here’s to you the optimist, the nature lover, the light that offers reflection, may you forever shine as brightly and as true to yourself as you can. For all you have taught me and all I have yet to learn.

 

Carlee.

DhtMSZmUwAEZqQl.jpg

Veterans Are Not Entry Level Talent and Rich Cardona Is Proving It.

Rich Cardona is a former Marine, turned leadership developer for Amazon, turned business owner and entrepreneur. His open, authentic style has recently caught the eye of VaynerMedia’s Chief Heart Officer Claude Silver, and the two are creating content that features Claude in a setting that makes her nothing less than perfectly relatable.

img_4433

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate of veterans dropped from 4.3 percent to 3.7 percent in 2017. This Entrepreneur.com article mentions that 78 percent of veteran-owned businesses register sales of $100,000 or more, while more than 38% have sales of half a million or more. Veterans who would otherwise find it hard to break into the labour market, are recognizing their talents both as leaders and creatives.

Rich has a clear and powerful message: “Veteran’s are not entry level talent”. Rich wasn’t an A student in high-school like so many entrepreneurs before him.

“In high school I was crazy I played a lot of football, I was really into track, but I was always more interested in trying to be cool and popular and having a lot of friends, than I was about my grades or team. I knew moving forward that I was not going to be in a position to go to college and perform. My parent’s wouldn’t have been able to pay for it anyway. I was a junior and I decided to go into the Marine Corps delayed entry program. The contract stated that upon graduation sometime that year, in 1998, I would go to Marine-Corps bootcamp and be a recruit and eventually become a Marine.”

As I continued to interview Rich I naturally wanted to know why he chose the Marines specifically.

“The Marine Corps is a very very special place, it is the least sought after armed service, it is the smallest armed service. We take a lot of pride in being incredibly efficient and doing more with less. I started as a private and I retired early as a Captain and I never regretted that choice.”

After working at Amazon for a few years he decided to take a risk and start his own business.

“It was time to make a change, I wasn’t seeing my daughter as often, I wasn’t happy and I was starting to act out of character. My wife is the one who actually made the call and said ‘you’re done’. I had always been really interested in photography and videography and so that’s what I decided.”

LRG_DSC07118.jpg *photo of Ann Cardona taken by Rich, “she is the love of my life I never have and never will feel this way about anyone else…ever.”

I was surprised to learn that Rich didn’t have previous experience as a videographer and had to teach himself everything he knew, ultimately founding Flybysmedia. Veterans today might leave the armed services feeling stuck but Rich is the perfect example of getting creative in today’s fast paced digital world. Nothing is out of reach for individuals who are adaptable to change and willing to learn something new.

On what changed the course of his business:

“I went to VaynerMedia to meet Claude, I made a LinkedIn post about it, that my life might change forever, and I went in there and offered to vlog for her because I believe in her, I love her, and I wanted to create content for her, I wasn’t qualified really to create content, but I didn’t care. I had a one on one discussion with Gary Vaynerchuk  thanking him for all that he has done for me personally and for recognizing next-level talent in Claude.  Claude and I then came to this agreement where I would come to New York and make content for her…and I’ll never forget how she said ‘I trust you’. We had known each other for about a year and a half through phone calls and LinkedIn and emails and that changed everything. Fast forward my business now involves creating content, I am attached to my phone and always on my computer. I love to create content and tell a story and tell other people’s stories.”

0-4.jpeg

*Rich meeting Gary VaynerChuk at VaynerMedia NY.

I also had the chance to interview Claude, the woman I had heard so much about for her ability to create amazing culture, inspire others, and find talent in places others fail to look. When asked why she chose to work with Rich she responded simply but beautifully:

“Rich is untapped talent. He’s a veteran who chose to give his life for our country and there is so much courage in that. I trust him…I can trust to record my videos with him.”

0-3.jpeg

*Rich sitting with Claude Silver during one of their candid conversations.

With veterans leaving the military each day and entering the work force I asked Rich what skills he believed were characteristic of veterans and how they related to entrepreneurship.

” The Marine Corps. is notorious for discipline, attention to detail and supporting each other. It’s all about realizing the bigger picture that is it’s not about you, even as an entrepreneur, it’s about who you’re providing value too.”

When hiring a veteran you can expect:

  • Solid leadership and leadership development skills
  • Work ethic
  • Accountability
  • Attention to detail
  • Team player
  • Take initiative
  • Creativity
  • Forward thinking
  • Research/presentation skills
  • Adaptable to change
  • Problem solving skills

When I asked Rich what he thought the biggest challenge for veterans entering the work force or becoming entrepreneurs was, I was intrigued by his answer. I thought it would be to overcome serious anxiety or PTSD. Admittedly, I had watched a lot of cinematic movies on veterans returning home.

“That is humongous and I’m working on something for that [solving the challenge] we don’t know where we want to go, no-one knows what they want to do. Some veterans will just stick with what they’re doing even when they don’t want to do that anymore, meaning if I was a logistician I would go into logistics because that is where my skills are,  because we don’t have the confidence to go anywhere else. We are not entry level talent, we let people think they can get us at a bargain, when in reality in the military you don’t do the same job the whole time. We get scared, we start feeling rejection because we know our place in the military but we don’t know our place on the outside. It’s a process of rewriting your resume a million times, not trying to lose your military identity while taking on a civilian identity. It is very, very challenging.”

Rich Cardona’s advice for veterans who don’t want to feel stuck:

“The best thing you can do in my opinion is to determine how much you’re going to need to survive for X amount of months and pursue exactly what you want. Go after it or you will never know.”

0-2.jpeg

 

Where to find Rich: 

http://www.richcardona.net or flybysmedia.com

LinkedIn or Instagram @flybysmedia

 

Quotes: 

“Marine’s don’t like cutting corners, it’s all about the long game.”  

“Nobody cares about the company anymore, everyone cares about the people at the company.”

“Building my business is really just me building my personal brand and showing people what it looks like when a former Marine who left a “good job” says f*ck it, hustling as hard as I can.”

“I absolutely attribute all of my leadership abilities to the military.” 

“To be deemed a survivor it takes an incredible amount of failure.”  

“You are worth being in this world. You are loved and You are cared for.” 

“The right people will always see when you have their best interest in mind.” 

“I believe you can train your mind. I expect nothing from anybody. I truly mean it when I say that.” 

“Remember who you are. Once a Marine, Always a Marine.”