HomeVolume 7August 2022 A leader everyone wants to work with

CLAUDE SILVER is the Global Chief Heart Officer at Vayner Media, a modern-day communications agency. Here she shares some ideas on what it means to lead with heart.

The Role of Chief Heart Officer

A Chief Heart Officer is in touch with every single human in an organization. We all have hearts, they are our central operating systems, and we all have heart beats. It is being in touch with humans, and what they are going through; the things they go through before coming to work every single day; their work journey; their dreams and aspirations; where they want to get to, and what might be holding them back.

I help people by finding road blocks and helping them remove them, so that they can drive. It’s really about empathy and giving people the space to be. I want people to feel like they can be their authentic selves at work without judgment. I want to create a place for everyone, so we are rowing the boat in the same direction and turning each other into champions, turning each other into heroes.

It is what I have always done in my life. It just happens to be a wonderful, enormous title, and I am very proud and honored to wear it every single day. It is really about how I can create space for you, how I can help you feel better than you did.

What does “leading with heart” mean?

A leader leads with heart. A leader leads with love. Some leaders may use other words, but the true essence of a leader is to serve others, to work for them, and to work with them. “Leading with heart” is a choice, every single day. It’s not a badge of honor, but a choice I make to bring my full self into any position, to bring my full self to you, so you feel that you can do the same.

First, I need to cross the bridge. We all have aches and pains, we all have families, we all have other responsibilities, we all have good days and bad days. Being human, why would we not want to share that with others? I do know why, and I am on a revolutionary mission to change that!

“Leading with heart” is a choice, every single day.
It’s not a badge of honor, but a choice I make

to bring my full self into any position,
to bring my full self to you, so you feel that you can do the same.

How to create heartful leaders?

We have to show up as that. There is no magic dust we can sprinkle. A person needs to be willing to do the self-work, and become aware of themselves and why they lead, in order to step into those shoes.

Many people are in leadership positions because that is the trajectory of their career in an organization. But they may not want to lead others; it may be a wrong fit. Many people want to be individual contributors, and we need that too.

It really comes down to finding the right fit. It means a desire to be better in the world, better at sharing with other people, open in our hearts, having a growth mindset. Being humble, sharing gratitude, and saying thank you. Saying I see you, how are you, holding the door open. These are the smallest things in the world, yet they make everyone feel so good. Every single person has the ability to reach inside themselves and do that, and that is their own practice.

We must feel active about, or rebellious about what really matters. People matter. When you put people first, listen to them, and give them what they are asking for, they will do remarkable things for the company, for themselves, for the consumer, for the client.

When you lean in and really listen, you will find that they are burnt out, or they need more training and development, or they want more opportunities, or more feedback. You need to figure out how to systematize that, operationalize that, to provide them what they need. Then they can be their best selves. It’s a collaboration. It’s about being better in the world. It takes of all of us, not just me and not just you. All of us.

Is it inherently easier for women to be heartful leaders?

Generally speaking, yes. Men are trained from a very young age to hold their emotions inside, to provide, to compartmentalize their feelings. I think women in general understand how to be vessels, how to hold space.We have it naturally, and we’ve been trained for that from a very young age. But it’s possible for any man to lean into those strengths, to open up that wall for themselves, and it starts with self-awareness.

It’s one thing to be kind, it’s one thing to show compassion, but what we really want is to understand empathy, humility, strengths and opportunities, weakness if you will. You have to get self-aware, you have to acknowledge who you are, where you have been, and that takes time. But it’s possible, and it’s every single person’s birth right to be nurturing and full of love. They are just choices we make.


Compassion, empathy, and courage go together

There is an unstated notion that a leader has to be courageous and brave on today’s battlefield, which is a different kind of battlefield. Both courage and empathy are qualities of the heart, yet often they are viewed as opposite ends of the spectrum. It’s not one or the other. In fact, I have been using the term “emotional bravery.” The emotional part is the willingness to feel, and the willingness to express, and that goes back to self-awareness. The bravery part is being comfortable to share the emotion, and understand how to regulate emotions, so they are not spilling everywhere. The last thing anyone wants from a leader is to have an emotional breakdown while running onto the battlefield.

So, being able to feel comfortable with emotions, knowing how to regulate them, and leading at the same time is a real gift. They go hand in hand. In fact, emotional courage, emotional bravery, is part of emotional intelligence.

Emotional courage, emotional bravery,
is part of emotional intelligence.

A happy workplace, a healthy workplace, a productive workplace, are all things that can be available to us, and we deserve them. What does it take? It takes the removal of ego, because ego is telling us, “I have to be right,” “I have to be first,” “I have to look good with everyone,” and that’s not how the world works.

Look at these last years of the pandemic. We all had to relearn many things and start from scratch in many ways. There is no role model for how we can get through a pandemic, and it takes humility to know that we don’t have the answers. We have to collaborate with others. With humility, and with a sense who we are, we can go through the battles together.

How can leaders help employees achieve their highest potential?

Good leaders want to help employees reach their highest potential and be the best they can possibly be. It’s not about “me” –I am there as a guide, a sherpa, a coach, but it’s not my show. It’s about the other person becoming greater, getting the promotion, or learning something. So, it’s the removal of “I” having to have my fingerprint all over the process.

Leaders create spaces where people feel psychologically safe. They feel like they belong, they can show up as who they are, and they can start to look at the stories they are telling themselves that are myths. We all do it. As leaders, we can help them find new stories in their heads, real stories rather than fictitious beliefs. To do this, we have to remind ourselves that, “It’s not my show. It’s their show.”

Excerpts from a GLOW webinar interview with PURNIMA RAMAKRISHNAN.
To listen to the whole interview, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlcICafqRNM.


Claude Silver

Claude Silver

Claude Silver is Vayner Media’s first-ever Global Chief Heart Officer, tasked with fusing empathy with agency to unlock employee potential and foster a culture of belonging across the 1200+ person organization. Between her deep education in... Read More