MARY: Claude, when you were young, you wanted to be a philanthropist and a movie director. But, then you realized that underlying all of that you wanted to help people. So, what does helping people mean to you?
CLAUDE: Helping people to me is building a bridge. It literally means being that Island that someone could swim to and holding out my hand, if they need a hand or a leg up building a bridge, so someone can climb on it. It means being there for another person. I really have to say it whether that’s a passenger riding shotgun, extending my hand. It is literally extending a part of me to help another person out of whatever situation, wherever they are.
MARY: I think it’s fair to say that you’re the relationship queen because you talk a lot about values, strengths, and skills. So, does this mean that you believe that every person should know what their natural state looks and feels like, so they can show up as the best version of themselves?
“It is all about the moments.
That’s what makes up a day, the moments.”
CLAUDE: I feel as though that opportunity is available to every person, should they want to walk into it.
Self-awareness is key, and I do believe that by the time we take our last breath, I would imagine 100% of us have achieved that place where we know who it is we are.
But I would never say that everyone should find their purpose and what not, because I just recognize other people are on different tracks.
You know, for me, human behavior is something I became incredibly passionate about because I needed to figure myself out. I didn’t like where I was going, and I was going nowhere fast in my late adolescence.
And so I made it my job to figure it out and in doing that, I learned so much about humans and spirituality and what makes us tick as a collective. And then, of course, what makes us tick and what makes me tick. So, it’s a long-winded way of saying the door is open for every single person to walk through, should they want to walk through it.
MARY: I want to touch on values for a moment. I think values are really important to unpack as an individual to really understand what your values are from the standpoint of setting a benchmark for yourself.
So, when you’re working with team members, or especially when new team members come on board, is it important that they understand their own values so that they’re aligned with the values of the organization?
Is it important that there’s a connection there or that all the values are somehow aligned?
CLAUDE: I think that’s something that you try to uncover in an interview process. I think that’s exactly what the candidate and the interviewer are looking to find – synergy, you know – does that person think in a similar way that I do?
Can they provide something to this organization that we haven’t necessarily tapped into?
Are our values and theirs in the same postal code? I think that’s something you do without a doubt in that interview process. And then once you get in the door, you definitely want to have some kind of alignment.
Otherwise it’s going to be an uphill battle. We can’t change anyone, right?
We can never change someone’s behavior. We can, you know, hopefully inspire others by who we are and hopefully that is something that turns someone on.
So, we want to change a bit or shapeshift or develop and evolve ourselves. But I do think there needs to be some kind of synergy.
MARY: You also talk about creating space to make people feel special in their environment. Now this is not the status quo in corporate America or Australia.
How do organizations shift from a robotic culture to a humanized culture?
CLAUDE: The answer is so simple. It’s spending time with people and caring about your people more than you care about your own ego; it’s creating a safe atmosphere, a safe culture, so that people feel like they can be themselves authentically.
By the way, the safer I make a culture for others, the safer I feel I can be.
It is literally, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
It’s quite selfish actually. I want to work at VaynerMedia because it’s the right culture for me. I want to work here.
I’m cultivating it every single day with others to be the best place it could possibly be with a culture where we celebrate people thriving.
We want to give people possible opportunities, and we lead with empathy, and I want to work in that type of place.
MARY: I was watching a video on YouTube when Gary introduced you as the new Chief Heart Officer at VaynerMedia.
And, in that video, I was watching the response of the team members and the words that they used to describe when you were appointed and it was almost like this: Yes, yes. You know, and in that moment, I just thought, wow, that is a serious culture.
Like it is incredible to have people who actually want to be around people.
What does that feel like for you?
CLAUDE: Well, I’ll tell you that the moment when he reintroduced me to the company as the Chief Heart Officer was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.
Imagine, you know, hearing literally a roar of the crowd, but it’s actually your peers. It was that much more tender to me, you know? I had equity there.
I had already been there for 16 months. So, I had the knowledge of what worked in our culture and where some of the skeletons were.
For me, it was really the happiest ending of one part of my life, because I made a job pivot. I pivoted my career and opened the most incredible new door for me to be who I am all day.
I mean, I’ve a master toolkit of skills and things in the last decades of not only being alive, but certainly in the working world.
To know that every single day I have the autonomy to use whatever’s in my toolkit in different situations, because let’s be honest, every single human is different and has different needs throughout their day throughout their lives, is amazing.
MARY: I’m in Melbourne, Australia, and you’re in New York. We all have friends all over the world because we are a connected world thanks to the internet, and maybe you know this: You are a brand in the world. When people think of Gary Vaynerchuk, they also think of Claude Silver, believe it or not. I know that you know that, but maybe you don’t know it to the degree that other people see you.
When I saw that video of your peers cheering “She’s back!” it was interesting to see that the outside world actually feels the same about you.
I mean, I don’t know you, but I can tell by watching you and following you and your posts that the feeling you give the outside world is exactly the same as you are at home or at VaynerMedia.
I think that you’re just one of those people. You’ve reinvented, I think for a lot of people, the meaning of heart in an organization, and that it’s totally acceptable to show up in your working environment, to be unapologetically yourself, to have self-respect for yourself first and then others. But also to bring that level of vulnerability into a working environment.
To me, that is outrageously awesome. How do you feel about that, that you’ve got this incredible respect in your working environment, but also outside in the world?
CLAUDE: I have to say I’m so humbled and I’m bashful too, because you know, I’m 51 years old, but I’m literally still that kid who struggled through school thinking that I was dumb for so long.
I finally realized that being more right-brained and having more heart than the average bear doesn’t make me dumb at all. That makes me real. I would rather be real than the smartest person in the world.
So, I’m humbled by that. And you know what you said, something that the way I interpreted it as I am, literally what you see is what you get.
And you’re right. I am just as goofy at home as I am with my people I work with. I will read poetry to someone on screen, just like I will make up songs and dance around here.
I think that I realized in my own life that the only way for me to be is to be me, as cliché as that sounds. And I’m just appreciative that that seems to touch people.
MARY: Would you say your mission is to help people realize their best self, their true self, their true core self?
One of my mentors once said to me, “Mary, the key is to go on the inside of the inside.” Is that your core goal?
CLAUDE: It’s so great that you said that because I often say to a few people who really know me: If only you could see right behind my eyes, like that’s where it’s all happening.
I’m going to digress for a second. As I’m with people all day, I have to hold their stuff all day. Some of it’s very intense. It’s very tender.
Obviously, I feel that, and I go right behind the place that you can’t see because otherwise, I wouldn’t get out of bed all day. In many ways I act as a therapist. So back to your question – my goal is to remove shame.
My goal is to create a place where every single individual feels as though it is safe in this world to be themselves, warts and all, and to remove the stigma of whatever it is they’ve gone through, because that’s the killer.
And I have been there for long enough in my life and carried enough shame for many lifetimes. And I won’t do it again.
So that’s the first, you know, you can hear it in my voice. I’m very passionate about that. And I’m also extremely passionate about people appreciating and enjoying, and God forbid not loving who they are just because it’s who they are.
MARY: Correct me if I’m wrong, but in your office you have on your whiteboard the words “how do you light people up.”
What does that mean to you and the people you serve each day?
CLAUDE: This goes back to your initial question about helping people and how you light someone up. It’s all about how you are making someone feel. It goes back to the Maya Angelou quote that I also have everywhere in my office.
People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”
That line, how you make people feel, is the only thing that matters to me. And it is how you light someone up.
How do you make someone feel? And my hope is you’re making them feel better, more seen, more valued, like they matter more than they did 30 seconds before you came into contact with them. So that’s the first step.
That’s what it means to me. And my hope is that people see that. And I do think they see the culture that Gary and I are creating every day.
This is a culture of turning others into champions, people working together in collaboration in a way that has a knock-on effect.
What is good for you is going to be good for me and not even having to worry about the wheel of karma. Of course, that works, right?
We wouldn’t be here, and you and I would never have met if there wasn’t karma, most likely.
I want them to walk out of that room feeling like whatever they got from me, whatever shot in the arm they got from me, from Gary or from whomever, they will pass that on because that’s what it’s about.
It is not about hoarding love, or hoarding good emotion; it’s about feeling it and sharing and feeling it and sharing it. And so how do you light someone up?
That’s a magnificent question. How do you think about that? That’s what I want people to think about. And I think that’s where the question about working on it together comes from.
MARY: You mentioned before about spirituality, and I think that the people walk the road less traveled, internally, which is a really hard walk.
You kind of come out through the other side; it’s a bit like the hero’s journey or you’re on the hero’s journey, but there are aspects of it where you step in and then you sort of step out.
I think that what makes a great leader is really understanding with conviction how to make people feel or asking those deep questions to get the best out of the person, and walking down that path yourself first before you can get to the other side. I think that’s been the case for you. In many ways, do you think that had you not gone down that inner path you would not be the Claude Silver that we see today?
CLAUDE: I have to say I still would be a lot of myself, but I would never have known the depths of human emotion and pain. And thus, I would not be as empathetic as I am today.
There is no way, no how, if I wasn’t able to see myself the way when I was looking at that person over there with judgment and all of a sudden being able to say like, “Oh my God, there’s not much difference between me and that person.”
You know, if I wasn’t able to do that, then I wouldn’t be me and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
But because I recognize that while we are extremely unique individuals, we are also identical when it comes to human emotion and the human experience, and it is very much the hero’s journey for me.
It’s also Alice in Wonderland, you know, coming through the wormhole.
Like we go through these things in life for God knows why, God knows how you know, and for those of us who are lucky enough and resilient enough to pop out through the other side, there is an enormous amount of light and love and teaching that we can provide other people.
MARY: I think that you do such an awesome job of being able to show people that there’s nothing to fear about and to help them break that down.
CLAUDE: Thank you, Mary. You know, this goes back to one of the earlier questions, but to be someone’s safe place is to be someone’s island, to be someone’s anchor.
And I mean doing that without breaking myself, to really be able to give that because I have enough inside me.
That’s what it’s about for me, not as lighting someone up, but literally like, I got you. You are safe with me. Five words go a long, long way with another person.
MARY: You are safe with me. I absolutely love that. They are incredible words to hear in a corporate environment.
I could just imagine that somebody just had an absolutely bad day and the thought in their mind could be anything from “I want to throw myself in front of a train” to “I don’t want to show up anymore,” and hearing those words could make such a huge difference in their moment.
CLAUDE: That’s right. Because it is all about the moments. That’s what makes up a day, the moments.
And by the way, the moment that just passed is gone. I can’t do anything about it, but I can do something in this moment and that next moment coming up.
And whether it’s “you’re safe with me” or “I got your back,” that is exactly what I would have wanted people to say to me in my earlier career.
For whatever reason they didn’t; it was a different time and a different day, and that’s all good, but there will never be a day that I’m not going to say that to someone and I’m not going to act like that.
MARY: What makes you so unique is that you have this strategic business side and you can read people. I think this in itself or those two components about you have such massive currency because you understand what people need and feel.
This combination surely has had enormous impact at VaynerMedia. I mean, not just from the people side, but working with Gary, which I can imagine is super high energy.
But it’s not just that, you know; he is 20, 50 years ahead of everybody else just in terms of his mind. And you can see that he’s just ticking constantly as a personality and as a human being.
How does your background, these two aspects of you, which are in some ways left and right brain, how have they impacted the business?
CLAUDE: You actually said it already, which is the fact that I come from the business, and I know exactly what it’s like to work and grind for a client and work on consumer packaged goods, or on oil and gas, or banking.
I worked on the floor for almost 20 years, and I know what the grind is like. I also know what the glory is like, and I know what the team is like, and how it really is all about a team who can connect and empathize with one another, one that is resilient and fast.
I’ve been in some stellar teams in my life. If I didn’t have that background, I wouldn’t be great at this job. I have to know what it’s like to grind 13 hours a day.
I have to know what it’s like to get that client brief and say, “Oh my God, are you kidding? I don’t know how to make that go viral.”
I have that background in me, and I also have the background studying to be a psychotherapist. It’s all human behavior, and it’s all intuition, and because I’m studying my own human behavior and others’ human behavior, I’m taking in information.
It’s pattern recognition. As humans, we’re patterning all the time. I think my background in human behavior, my lust for it, my thirst for it, and knowing what it’s like to be in the advertising business, have set me up for success in this role.
I can speak to the 23-year-old who’s just walking in the door;
I can speak to the person who has been grinding for the last three weeks, without a day off; I can speak to the team who just won that business pitch.
If you put me on the floor of a financial institution, it’d be harder for me to speak that language.
I’m not fluent in that language. MARY: You said that what you’ve learned from Gary is a new level of patience, accountability, and humility, and you’ve learned to let go of 99% of stuff you don’t need and focus on the 1% rock star.
When I heard that, I just loved it. Actually. I had to listen to it about three times because I was like, did I hear that right? Can you give me an example of how this has impacted you as a human being?
CLAUDE: The accountability part, my God, Gary first started to say it to me when I stepped into this role, that anything that happens with people here is on him first and on me second, because I oversee everything that has to do with people in their experience.
So, when someone is having a bad day or crying in the corner, when someone leaves, when someone feels like they’re being bullied, when someone has anything, and everything is on me because at the end of the day I have to remember that I’m not a puppeteer, I can’t manouever at all — I can’t do any of that.
I can’t change people, but my job is to understand what the texture and the vibe of the culture are day in and day out across the seas.
So that means I need to be extremely on top of everyone and everything, know what’s going on in different pockets, especially where I think there might be some bullying going on there, and I need to be able to bring that to him with speed.
So, I need to be able to find the issue, if it’s a cavity somewhere, and I need to be able to figure out where it’s coming from. And when I need to, I bring it to him because he wants to know what’s going on in his organization.
But the accountability piece is accountability such as I’ve never known. It takes an enormous amount of personal integrity to get so real to also say to him when I absolutely “F’d” up – I’m like, that was on me. That was on me. By the way, the minute I say that, then we can move on. It takes so much time for us humans to take responsibility for something.
If we just took the responsibility and validated the experience, we could move on. So that’s one of the things that he’s taught me over and over again. With that level of accountability comes an enormous amount of humility.
I’m just like everyone else. I have a wonderful, phenomenal title. It’s the best title in showbiz, but I am just like everyone else. I just happen to be in a position where I’m responsible for a lot of heartbeats.
MARY: I love the word patience because I think that we’re in a world of instant gratification. I think that’s my key word. I describe myself like that all the time, because I don’t need the quick fix.
I want the journey. That’s what I’m after. The journey for me is what I crave, not the end result. I don’t care what the end result looks like. I have a vision of it, but actually the journey is what I’m after. And I didn’t know that, but when you understand the power is in the journey, not the instant gratification, it changes the game completely.
CLAUDE: I agree with you. And I always say it’s a marathon, not a sprint. And as soon as I say that, it really does take pressure off, because Rome wasn’t built in a day.
When you understand that, you see that there are milestones to hit whether it’s a project, an advertising campaign, or building a business.
By the way, our relationship, raising a child, raising myself … I used to be a person in my early twenties and laid out the lessons where I really just wanted to go from A to Z.
I did not realize in order to get to the 26 letters in the alphabet, I actually had to go through all of those letters. It was not pretty and it took me a while to understand that lesson.
MARY: Who would you like to meet who is no longer living and what would you ask them or what would you want to know?
CLAUDE: I would definitely like to sit down with Maya Angelou and talk about a life lived and the pain that she went through, the rising from the ashes like a Phoenix that she also went through.
I would like to talk to Florence Nightingale because I have this feeling that she also had a heart that wanted to help and was very much a servant leader and that type of archetype. It would also be amazing to meet Cleopatra.
MARY: What is it that you would ask her?
CLAUDE: I just want to know where Cleopatra got her drive. I mean, not that I know so much about her, but like she was a queen back in the day.
She was royalty and I would want to know what that experience was like and also what her heart was like. Did she care about other people? Did she really, give a youknow- what about her “people”? I’m interested in that.
Florence Nightingale: I would ask her the same questions you’ve asked me. How did you get to have that type of heart? What did you go through in life?
Do you know that your name has been spoken about since the very day you took your last breath? This is what you’ve left people with, that type of thing.
And, Maya Angelou, what a poet and what a life! I mean, I would really want to hold her hand and thank her for all of the pain and trials and tribulations that she went through that then allowed her to rise and to tell her story, because her story is something that I think we will be talking about for, I hope, centuries to come.
So those are the three people on the top of my mind, although I’m sure you know, don’t get me wrong, I would love to meet Jim Morrison. I mean, I had his posters all over my college walls and dorm rooms. So, you know, give me a little John Belushi, you know, for the wild side of me.
MARY: Claude, what do you want your legacy to be?
CLAUDE: If people said she had a generous heart, I would be very happy. I would love to know that we came that much closer to living with tenderness. Just that much would make me fly off
and be a very happy angel somewhere. I have a generous heart, and it is really all I need.
MARY: You definitely do have one. It’s just so wonderful to have this opportunity to talk with you. I love what you do. I follow your work on LinkedIn.
I love what you stand for because, well, first of all, you know, you have to relate to it or you, or aspire to be it.
But the, the other thing is that I would love to see this type of culture in other corporations as well. I just hope that other people in organizations listen and want change like that for their culture. That’s what I hope.
CLAUDE: Mary, I’m with you. And I think if they listened to what they are saying inside or behind their eyes, they will. That’s the deal.
If they’re not afraid to speak up and they’re not afraid to really say what is on their mind, they will.