VaynerMedia's Claude Silver On What It Means To Be Chief Heart Officer & How To Make Everyone Feel Seen
In Bustle's Quick Question, we ask women leaders all about advice — from the best guidance they've ever gotten, to what they're still figuring out. Here, Claude Silver of VaynerMedia shares her insights on how to listen, how she unwinds, and the importance of taking up space.
It's tempting to call Claude Silver the Head of Human Resources for VaynerMedia. After all, she spends her days in one on one meetings, trying to make all of VaynerMedia’s almost 800 employees feel seen and heard. She describes her job as creating “a culture of belonging, where people feel like they can bring their whole selves to work,” and she works tirelessly to promote acceptance and positivity. Although this may sound like an idealistic human resources, Claude Silver would prefer you call her Chief Heart Officer.
“I don't know what HR means,” she tells Bustle. “But I know what heart means, because we're humans and we all have a heart.”
When Silver started at VaynerMedia, the position of Chief Heart Officer didn’t exist yet. She was originally hired in 2014 as the Senior Vice President, running the company’s Unilever account. Even though Unilever was based in New York, Silver would constantly travel to the other offices to meet with and mentor different employees.
“Then one day, I said to Gary [Vaynerchuk], you know what, I think I'm done doing this. I'm done doing the selling, the advertising part,” she says. “I only care about the heartbeat of this place. I only care about people.”
So she resigned. She left VaynerMedia for all of four months when she got a call from Vaynerchuk. “He said, 'That's it. You're coming back as Chief Heart Officer'", Silver says. She knew exactly what that meant.
After spending the last two decades at various Fortune 500 companies, Silver has seen both the good and bad of corporate America. As a woman in a male-dominated industry, Silver says she’s had jobs where her opinion was sidelined and she was told to be silent. Now her mission is to take her years of experience and help VaynerMedia become a place where everyone can feel heard.
“You're not there because you want to be the hero of the story," she says. "You're there because you want to be the guide, or the coach, or the Sherpa to them. You want to be the guide, they're the hero.”
Silver has always known that she wanted to help others, and her position as Chief Heart Officer lets her do just that. Here, she shares with Bustle her tips for active listening, how she handles her emotionally intensive job, and the worst career advice she’s ever received.
What's on your to-do list?
CS: Wakeboarding this summer. I'm ready to catch some real air, I really am. I have a little daughter who's six months old now. My to-do list is to watch her be curious with the world.
How do you turn your brain off?
CS: Music. Cooking is a big one. I do separations, like energetics zones. That's kind of sounds like deep, but it's really not. It's just like neutral separation. So I'm not taking on, you know, Jack's whole story or Susan's whole story. I'm just able to listen without judgment, and then I can leave it there. Because if I took on all of those, I would never get out of it.
What would you tell someone just starting off in your industry?
CS: I would say really check yourself, and make sure that you do know how to empty your bucket at night, or empty your bucket during the day, so that you're not taking on all the emotion. Because when you are looking at something with just emotion, it's subjective. It's a really hard to swim to the surface and be objective about something. And that's what you need to do in HR. You are Switzerland; you are Switzerland all day. So you got to get yourself into a Switzerland neutral place so that there's no blame on anyone.
Who is your mentor?
CS: My nana was my mentor, for sure. Gary [Vaynerchuk] is my mentor in many, many ways. This might sound like super lame, but you know, Oprah is my mentor in some ways, and I don't know her. Dalai Lama is my mentor in some ways. People that just see the beauty in others and that can empathize with the fact that there is suffering in life. Not rose-colored-glass it. The clouds will part, you know. Sunsets and landscapes and mountain ranges — those all those mentor me too.
What's the best career advice you've received?
CS: Anytime you receive an email that you think is hostile or harsh in any way, do not respond immediately. Wait three minutes.
What's the worst piece of advice you've ever received?
CS: The worst piece of advice I've ever received is "don't talk." I will tell you, I think that is a crime, especially when we tell women this.
I did listen to it. I was scared. It was scary for me. I was about like, I don't know, my late 20s. It was as though my opinion wasn't valued.
So what advice would you give your younger self?
CS: To be confident, to take up space, to talk.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.