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.

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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.

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Let’s Get Real About Depression and Entrepreneurship.

Entrepreneurs, the business savvy hustlers of the world, are human too. We need sleep, food, water and believe it or not, downtime. When we think of entrepreneurship, we don’t think of depression or mental illness. Depression mild or severe, can really happen to any of us either because of life circumstance, a moment of loss, or a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Entrepreneurship can be a daunting task, full of hardship, failure and detours. The weak do not choose this path. Anyone who has chosen to be an entrepreneur and is succeeding or in the process, is a strong individual. The whole “profession” takes a shit-ton of personal development. It makes you look at every area of your life and improve it, to better yourself beyond what you think is capable in the moment.

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Depression is something that might be taboo in the world of entrepreneurship, because it might symbolize the opposite of the image we have created for it.

But, there are hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs currently living with depression that have thriving successful businesses.

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To manage my own mindset during a period of depression is perhaps one of the most challenging things I’ve had to do…. although rehab was also challenging, shoutout to Grant Cardone who publicly speaks about his addiction issues and how they changed his life, now he’s a multi-millionaire. It’s challenging because you feel, depressed, you don’t want to get up, you don’t want to shower, you don’t want to do anything. It might last a day or a few weeks and you don’t want other people to notice, especially your team… what would they think of you?

Entrepreneurship in a way helped me with my own depression. Starting or running a business means you are responsible for your own success or failure. Each day I know that if I don’t do anything, my blog and writing career will vanish.

Being unafraid to be open about what you’re experiencing with your team creates a better relationship. Your team needs to be able to understand where you’re coming from and why. The strength to speak your truth beyond the fear of rejection or judgement will build authenticity, a culture of trust and pure communication, and bring you liberation.

You don’t have to be perfect or on all the time. This business thing takes a lot, like a LOT of hard work. Don’t ever be afraid to share your personal journey, and don’t ever feel bad for taking care of yourself first. My gosh!

There are plenty of us out here working, building and growing that have depression or another form of mental illness. Don’t let it hold you back.

I truly believe the only way to end stigma, shame, feelings of guilt, is to shed light on the topics that need to be talked about the most.

You CAN succeed as an entrepreneur with depression.

I’d love to connect and grow with you.

 

Love you all,

Carlee.