Brandeis International Business School

018: Leading with Heart & Experiential Learning

Remember that all humans have hearts

Claude Silver is VaynerMedia's first Chief Heart Officer. She unlocks employees' potential by forging human-to-human connection, creating cultures of belonging, empowering teams to be purpose-driven, efficient and strong and infusing the agency with empathy, humanity and joy.

Claude's unique perspective on servant leadership and team building comes both from her training in Positive Psychology and her experience in talent management, leader development, coaching, workplace culture and people operations for 800 plus employees across VaynerX – conversations that have given her a lot of insight into the school-to-workplace transition.

From the Dorm Room

Claude wasn’t a very strong student during high school – although, as we’ll learn soon, she just hadn’t discovered her optimal form of learning yet. So when she graduated, she didn’t have a lot of options for college. She got into Rollins College on the waitlist, and was eventually accepted to attend the school and play on the tennis team.

She stayed at Rollins for two years, majoring in Psychology, and then took a break from college. Immediately after her sophomore year, she set out on a 93-day outward bound course, a Wilderness Leadership Program, where she had the opportunity to learn about herself, nature, people, empathy and team building. But, unlike her psych courses, this was a functional, real-life, applied form of learning, and it felt very different from reading a book about how people think and act.

A few years later, she found her way to Prescott College, a liberal arts school in Arizona that spoke to Claude because of its experiential course curriculum. This is where learning and education really started to click for Claude, and she went from struggling to top of the class.

Finally, 10 years after she graduated high school, Claude graduated from the California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS), a school fundamentally based around transpersonal psychology, spiritualities, liberal arts and literature.

“So, my college experience was very varied. I can say I come from a family that has multiple degrees of higher education, and I definitely took the road less traveled, and really have enjoyed it because of that.”

To the Boardroom

Chief Heart Officer is an incredible title for an appropriately incredible role: overseeing all of the people and their experiences within the walls of Vayner.

Some people might call this a Chief People Officer, or Chief HR Officer, but Claude says heart “because I believe that human beings are full of heart – and every now and then, especially in corporate cultures, we end up forgetting that part.”

So Claude makes it her job to always remember that, and to remind team members and leadership when necessary. She really helps with everything you can imagine that goes on within a person at their job, from shifting teams to personal coaching to mental health issues to leadership conflict.

In these conversations, Claude has talked to a lot of young employees who were just entering the workforce, as well as the people who manage those young employees. She sees the misconceptions that people come in with, and that’s really valuable insight for us to have on this show.

“Based on my experience, I find that the generations that are coming into the workforce today are incredibly bright,” Claude says, “and have not yet understood – much less mastered – the idea of patience.”

When you're 18, 19, 21 years old, you think that we've lived a lot – and all of us experience this – but in reality, it's only two decades. On top of that, our society is speeding up, there are a lot of things you actually don’t have to wait for anymore, and that’s further chipping away at everyone’s patience.

“In those two decades, we've been learning how to crawl, and walk and ride a bike. We've been learning how to make friends and fall in love, but by no means have we learned how to get along in teams, and collaborate within teams and take our time to master something before we get a promotion,” Claude says. We can’t just jump from A to Z. Things are incremental.

Claude also says that young workers need to practice listening. Not listening is perhaps another symptom of greater societal problems, but it’s still an overlooked skill in the workplace, and it’s a skill that will help you succeed in any workplace.

But there’s also one thing that Claude doesn’t hear nearly enough from young workers – they don’t ask for advice or mentorship! Claude says this is a crucial part of both learning how to operate on a team and your personal development.

The Entrepreneurial Edge

Every week, we highlight one piece of advice for aspiring, struggling and successful-but-want-to-be-even-more-successful entrepreneurs:

“All human beings are unique, and we do not learn in a cookie cutter way. We do not learn from taking standardized tests. I don't think there's anything there that is making us smarter. I think that we learn when we apply ourselves.”

So, whether that’s writing code, planting plants in a greenhouse or finding a way to get your team out of the Grand Canyon when it is snowing and there is ice everywhere, education is out there in life.

“When we apply ourselves and apply what we've just learned to the real world is when I think the magic happens.”


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