Empathy First: Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, on the Future of Leadership

Jennifer Brown | |

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Claude Silver, Chief Heart Officer of VaynerMedia, joins the program to discuss the qualities that leaders need to embrace, and why those qualities are even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Discover how working virtually is increasing transparency and empathy, and how to cope with uncertainty.

In this episode you’ll discover:

  • The new transparency that’s occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic (17:00)
  • How we are all learning more about each other while working virtually (28:00)
  • An equity issue that needs to be address during this time (31:00)
  • The qualities we need most from leaders (38:00)
  • The opportunity in the current crisis (41:00)
  • What leaders need to keep in mind (45:00)
  • How leaders can be transparent without frightening their employees (47:00)
  • How to stay grounded and cope with uncertainty (53:00)

Listen in now, or read on for the transcript of our conversation:

JENNIFER BROWN: Claude, welcome to The Will to Change.

CLAUDE SILVER: Jennifer, it is great to hear your voice. How are you?

JENNIFER BROWN: I know. It’s so good to hear your voice again, right? You were on The Will to Change like 18 months ago or so? September 5, 2018 when you were about to become a parent for the first time.

CLAUDE SILVER: It’s crazy, now that we are socially isolating, and here we are with our 17-month old who’s running around like crazy. Just thinking back to the time when you and I first had our podcast when life was like, “Oh, what is about to happen?” But I was still able to be quite selfish in my world. And now, selfishness and sleep are out the window.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. That’s right. And you have joined the ranks of tired working parents from home. Right? Yeah, we’ve been talking so much about that in my calls. We are the human jungle gyms, those of us who have kids right now on Zoom.

CLAUDE SILVER: That’s true.

JENNIFER BROWN: Really, I’m thinking about allyship in a whole different way, as somebody who doesn’t have human children. I’m thinking about how I can step forward and adjust around my team members who have many, many young children and are trying to still work at JBC, and just literally giving the flexibility and saying, “You do what you need to do, and whenever you have that energy to be productive, et cetera.” That’s really so incumbent on us to make that space right now. And I hope that kind of continues going into the future.

CLAUDE SILVER: I think it will. I don’t think there is such a thing as “going back.” I just don’t.

JENNIFER BROWN: No, we’re not going back.

CLAUDE SILVER: For many, many, many different things and different reasons.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. Oh, I can’t wait to dive into that today with you. That is totally what I want to talk about.

CLAUDE SILVER: Let’s do it. Cool.

JENNIFER BROWN: So, I would love you to reacquaint our audience with your story, your diversity story, however you would define that. And then we’ll get into sort of what do we see as the future. I should say that we’re recording this episode at the apex, the dreaded apex, maybe the first of many apexes, I hope not, here in New York City, which is where I sit, and you’re in the Poconos. But you’re based here in the New York tri-state area. So I just wanted to ground us in April 10, 2020. But I do think, by the time we air this we will fast-forward a bit, so I’m going to kind of point us in that future direction once we get into the discussion. But Claude, tell folks how you view your own diversity story, and I know that you believe it powers the role that you have now, so maybe you could tell us a little bit about that, too.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah, absolutely. I am a proud lesbian. I am now a proud lesbian parent, and those are words that I think I’ve grown into. Certainly proud lesbian is one that I’ve grown into. Putting the word professional into that, as well. As you and I have spoken in the past, I found myself in this world of marketing and advertising, never knowing what it was, way back in the dark ages of ’98 when I was in San Francisco. I really thought I would be a psychotherapist and really help people tell their stories and find themselves. What I’ve found through my own career as someone in the advertising agency world before I turned into a Chief Heart Officer officially is that really I was able to navigate myself professionally quite, quite well while never really coming out.

I was very out outside of work, but it was something I really kept to myself when I was in the four walls of work. Sometimes it was because I picked up a vibe of a coworker that it just wasn’t going to be cool if I came out, or I would kind of be the odd man out. And you know, as many of us know, who are LGBTQ or dealing with some kind of other diversity claim, I would say you already feel like the odd man out, so that wasn’t something I wanted to do at work. I wanted to be known for my work and my effort and my merit and my tenacity and my strength. I didn’t want to be known as “Hey, the Lesbian.”

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CLAUDE SILVER: Until I moved to New York in 2014 and took the role at VaynerMedia. It was then where, on my first day of work, May 2014, I sat down at a desk and there were two wonderful gay young men at the table with me, and they just greeted me and immediately said, “Hey, I’m so and so, I’m so and so. What’s your favorite app?” And it was so interesting. I thought, “Oh my gosh. I’m in a whole different world right now where they are out and proud. Here I am, a much more older, experienced “senior” person to them.” And I made a decision at that moment that I would be me. I would be fully me at work, at home, in life, and I never, ever turned back. What that really has empowered me to do is really, really own who I am proudly and empower other people and welcome other people and open the window for other people to do the same.

Being a Chief Heart Officer and holding space for people and really holding the culture of VaynerMedia in my heart every single day, it’s something that I’m very honored to do and welcoming people to be their best self, their whole self, their full self, whatever blank self you want to be, I want people to feel like they can bring it every day. I never, ever, ever want someone to feel like they cannot be who they are because they don’t want to be known as “that person.” Be that person. Please, be that person.

JENNIFER BROWN: Please be that person.

CLAUDE SILVER: You add. You add to our culture. You add to this world. You do not deplete or take. You add.

JENNIFER BROWN: Oh, that is so beautiful. What a great call to action. One of the things that’s been on my heart and mind, and as I’ve seen this opportunity in the midst of this crisis to bring more of our full selves to work, I think. Perhaps in the work-from-home world, things might be easier to disclose. Perhaps things are harder to hide about who we are. Perhaps it is an opportunity to drop some of the covering behaviors that we could, I guess, in the “best of times,” although I wouldn’t even call them the best, because you and I know how much has been broken and flawed in the system that got us here.

But I would say the new level of transparency, while uncomfortable for some of us, is also an opportunity to really sort of challenge ourselves to be more transparent, and therefore by doing that, normalizing who we are. And that’s what changes institutions. That’s what educates others is us being boldly ourselves. I wonder, do you agree that this environment that we’re in now, there’s something that has been revealed or unleashed where there’s tremendous potential to kind of accelerate all of that, at least for some of us? And I wonder what the discomfort is for others of us, in this new configuration.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah, I love the question. I think the wonderful thing about what has happened here on a global level, as we can all relate, is it has brought us together. It has connected us with a common denominator across the world. It doesn’t matter what longitude, latitude you’re in. It doesn’t matter the color of your skin. We are all experiencing this global phenomenon at that same exact time, so the idea of connection is relevant. It is here. If you take this idea of working from home, which by the way, we did not have a working from home culture until four weeks ago, which is amazing because now we do. And we’re vibrant in that. But we’re all on Zoom or Skype or FaceTime or Hangouts, and what are we doing?

We’re all looking into each other’s house, into each other’s living room, into each other’s bookshelf. None of us have makeup on. Some of us have baseball hats on. Some of us have hoodies. Some of the people have grown beards. Some of this, some of that. The kids are crawling on us, the dogs are barking, the cats… So the idea of authenticity is actually now very realistic. It’s right in front of the screen. And that, in our new, new reality I think is something that has kind of removed this idea of vulnerability and I think allowed us all to be much more authentic. I mean, you’re seeing exactly what I live like when I’m at home, right? I am looking right into that person’s living room and seeing their partner behind them getting a glass of water from the kitchen. That, in itself, I think has removed such a shield, or this armor that I believe we still carry with us inside the workplace.

JENNIFER BROWN: I couldn’t agree more.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. And I guess, the counter to that is, for those of us that already felt vulnerable bringing our full selves because of stereotypes, stereotype threat is what it’s called, that sense of threat we have because we anticipate that we will be deemed less than, somehow, and that anticipation of microaggressions, for example. I’ve had some people say, “I feel worried if I am fully myself right now, and vulnerable that I may even lose my job.” That literally came up on one of the calls I did this past week, at a time when we know that so many jobs are at risk, the thinking may be, “I’ve got to somehow maintain this veneer to protect myself, because even in pre-COVID times, I felt I was sort of tenuously at the table and working kind of 150% to show up in a certain way because I was the only. I was the first. I am still the underrepresented person.” You know, that whole kind of perfectionism that we talk about a lot that a lot of us maintain because we feel that tenuousness about being at the table.

So I guess, maybe not in your environment because the nature of your work in the company is so sort of pro a lot of the things that we value, but I have a lot of financial services people in my audience. I have a lot of really traditional industries. And I guess the question might be, what is the risk to being vulnerable when you can see everything behind us, when you can, by the way, see also our socioeconomic reality behind us in the screen. Some of us… This is also laying bare a lot of differences. I know for kids, have you read the stats on kids that are embarrassed about where they live not wanting to be on Zoom and have their background visible?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. I have read that. And that, in itself, is heartbreaking to me, because again, here we are facing a common denominator, all of us working from home that are in the work world, I’m talking the office world, not the essential workers today who are keeping us afloat, quite frankly, but the common denominator of us all behind these screens looking at each others’ houses, for me what is heartbreaking about that is, there is no other choice. This is what we all have to do to continue to have our jobs, to get our paychecks, and to show up and do our best at work. And the idea that people still feel as though there are judgmental eyes peering at them through a screen, while that may be the case, is absolutely heartbreaking to me because boy, oh boy, was there no place for that before, but now we’re all stripped away. We’ve stripped away this other layer of ourselves and even have to be more raw, to an extent. So that fear has to be crippling, and that fear just has to go away. And that’s up to us, the leaders.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yes.

CLAUDE SILVER: The leaders and those of us who have a voice to help those that don’t have that voice. Here’s an example of something you just said, I wanted to share anonymously. There was someone I spoke to on Zoom the other day at our company, and just checking in on this person, “Hey how are you? How’s it going at home? How’s your family?” Didn’t know anything about his family, and he said, “Oh, we’re okay. We’re okay. My mom is still walking a mile and a half each way to work at her grocery store in Queens.”

And I just said to him, “I just want to thank your mom so much for doing what she’s doing,” because A) I didn’t know that about his family. I didn’t know that six people lived in a two-bedroom. And I had no idea about his mom. And again, back to these essential workers, she’s one of them and she’s walking to work so that we all can go to the market, stand in line and get our food. That was amazing, right? And I just wouldn’t have known that, and shame on me for not knowing that, but I’m so glad I do know that, because it gives me an extra set of eyes now, as I’m talking to 800 people and still doing my day job.

JENNIFER BROWN: Right. That’s a beautiful story, and heartbreaking that we don’t know these things about each other. And that, I think when you said we don’t want to go back, I think a lot of us are discovering things, and the empathy quotient is rising right now in a very unique way because of this moment, and I’m encouraging leaders to really jump into that. I guess, how to not intrude as we are trying to support. So, the word intrusion came up this past week a lot, intrusion to inclusion. And as I was thinking about allyship, too, and how it’s shifting. The definition is broadening, of allyship, I think right now, to the story you just shared, which is how can I be supportive? If something’s not true for me and a struggle is not true for me, but it’s true for others… I think about mental health, for example. I want so much to be an ally, a visible and vocal ally for people who struggle with mental health, because it is one of those deeply-stigmatized identities that people have been terrified to bring into work.

There’s just no language for it unless it’s an incredibly progressive company. But that’s one of the things I think is going to take the biggest quantum leaps through this process is the normalization of that discussion and of that reality. And this is part of your background, right?

CLAUDE SILVER: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

JENNIFER BROWN: Way long ago. I guess, the checking in on people, how do we do this in such a way… How do we invite this without tokenizing? How do we invite without intruding? How do we offer that support and model this new kind of leadership, particularly in a virtual place, which I almost feel like I wonder if it’s a little easier? It feels different, that’s for sure. It feels almost easier because it doesn’t require the physical walking into somebody’s office and coming out, you know? I know for me that was the most terrifying thing when I was in the physical office years ago at my insurance company, and I’m the lowest, most junior person on the team and I had to literally walk into somebody’s office with a picture of my partner and rip the bandaid off. That was how I did it. That’s how I chose to do it, you know, have sort of all of my pain and fear at once. And of course, it was fine. But the physical act of walking up to somebody and saying, “I struggle with this” is so intense.

So I think, versus what we’ve been doing on my calls is we’ve been having everybody go into Zoom and add their pronouns next to their names, so I’ve got 90 people in the first five minutes putting their pronouns next to their names. And it’s like, it’s done and it feels so easy and yet so powerful.

CLAUDE SILVER: Hm.

JENNIFER BROWN: As a point of allyship. So I just wonder. I know there’s a lot of questions in there. Whatever you’d like to pick up on. Go for it.

CLAUDE SILVER: Okay. I love it all. I love it all. I want to start with the first part, which is there is something about this virtual world of looking at each other on Zoom while being at our own houses that I find to be even more authentic than sitting in a room with someone holding space. As you mentioned, when you walk into a room, both you whomever, if I’m sitting in the room greeting someone, I have my own mishegoss going on, right? I’m not just a stone statue. I’m a human being, and I have my own thoughts and feelings and physicality greeting someone, just as they have their own security-insecurity thoughts, feeling, physicality, walking into a room to see me. Right? And we sit in a room together and we look at each other and we fidget and we look away, and we look down, we have eye contact, we don’t have eye contact.

On the screen, there is so much more eye contact. That’s what I’m finding. Yes, sure, we look away, but we can all see when we’re looking at our phones and not at the screen, now. We can all see each others’ faces and our smiles, I think in a different way than when you’re sitting across a room from someone. And so I have noticed, I don’t know if the word is authenticity. I don’t know if the word is transparency, but I think there’s something that is very genuine about this experience.

JENNIFER BROWN: Genuine is a beautiful word for this.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. Thank you, yeah. Genuine feels right, and it is still fluid in the reality of it. So that’s the first thing that I’m really finding, in terms of being on these Zoom calls with everyone. The second thing is, as we think about, you were talking about mental health and the anxieties that are coming up just for all of us that are just in this pandemic right now. All of us that are at jobs and hoping that we can keep our jobs and that we don’t get laid off or furloughed or lose our jobs or our partners don’t lose their jobs, there’s all that anxiety, too. Then there’s the anxiety, quite frankly, of technology and also access to wifi. That’s one of the first questions I got as soon as we mandated that people start working from home was, “Can you pay my wifi bills?”

JENNIFER BROWN: Right.

CLAUDE SILVER: Or I live with four people, four roommates, and we’re going to zap our 4G. Those types of things. So that’s the first thing we made sure that we could do was provide people with the ability to expense wifi, because that’s really, really important. I mean, being virtual all day is a zap to the system. And as trivial as that might sound, that’s money for someone.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. That’s an equity issue, right?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. That is an absolute equity issue, and you know, shame on any of us that say, “Yeah, but that person should be able to pay for wifi.” Uh-uh (negative). No, no, no, no, no, no, no. So that’s the first thing. And we need to make virtual meetings equitable. We need to make sure that we are sending things in advance. We need to make sure that we are asking people how they’re doing, whether or not it’s on that call, before the call, after the call. These are things, as leaders, we need to continue to step into as empathetic leaders and make sure that we are embracing. I use the word empowering quite a bit in this time.

Empowering people to have a voice and use their voice, whether or not it is in a public setting or one on one or in an anonymous survey. People need to be able to share with us how they are doing. And that’s really important. And whether or not that is about technology or that’s about the fact that they have a lot of anxiety and they stayed up until 3:00 in the morning because they’re freaked out and they are a little tired this morning, whatever that is. I think the other thing, in terms of inclusivity, and I’m going back to this idea of virtuality, is making sure that we are beginning all of these meetings on Zooms or Hangouts by acknowledging everyone that is there. And that doesn’t mean acknowledging the leaders first or those that we believe have privilege. It is acknowledging everyone who is showing up on time at 9:00, 10:00 to start their day, to start their day with you. So those things are really incredibly important.

And I think also the idea of we must not penalize parents. We must not penalize, and we must be very on top of gender bias. Those are things that I think we need to have an extra set of lenses on right now in our eyes. It’s not always going to be the female who’s a mom. It could be two sets of same-sex parents. By the way, there could be people who we know were going through IVF who have had to stop. These are all the types of things that are coming up, at least in my ecosystem of working with 800 people every single day. How about the fact that there are people that are dealing with family members that have COVID, they have COVID, brothers-in-law, sister-in-law. You know, there’s so much right now, in terms of what is affecting someone’s mental health. Back to your original question. I don’t even know if empathy is the right word anymore. I mean, that’s a given for me. Humanity.

JENNIFER BROWN: It’s like table stakes.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. Being human. Being human is what we must do, and we must really be compassionate right now.

JENNIFER BROWN: How will this be sustainable when the impetus is going to be, I think, to recreate the, in some cases, bad old ways of working and business as usual? I think I’m getting a lot of questions around what are we building… I guess there’s two questions, Claude. How can we ensure that we’re innovating right now, and we are I think discovering a deeper way of being with each other, of seeing each other, of collaborating with each other, and I think even as we are less productive, perhaps we are more productive because of issues of transparency and trust, honestly, that is I think being built in hyper speed right now. Because we have to. We have to in order to get our work done. And we get to. It’s not that it’s have to, we get to. It’s such a neat moment, full of possibility, and I think it’s not even so secretly, what I’ve always wanted to see in our work relationships, that we truly see and hear each other. There’s no better enabler of productivity and engagement than that.

And there’s been so many things in our way from creating that, whether that was the physical workplace, whether that was biases and microaggressions that made us feel smaller every day. There’s just so much that’s opening up right now. So how do we keep the best of what we’re discovering top of mind in whatever’s next that we don’t return? And then I think, those of us who do this work right now have to be showing these examples of what is being enabled right now. Because we’re always evaluated on proof points, we’re always evaluated on I think a lot of evidence and case studies. Part of me wishes we weren’t, because I think that honestly this stuff should be very obvious, but I wonder how do we carry this as a new standard? How do you carry… You’re the Chief Heart Officer. You talk about the most perfect job title.

It is the heart in business that’s going to be, I think, what needs to shape what comes next. And yet, I think I fear that, through the speed of how we’re working, and the panic and the not knowing, there is ample opportunity for bias to continue to be baked in to wherever we’re going next. And I fear that. I’ve been saying speed is the enabler of bias. The not knowing, for those of us who don’t think about this all the time, the uncertainty and the speed and the panic and the no roadmap, I think, could be a toxic recipe. We could end up excluding at a time when we could really actually be including more proactively. Right?

So I fear that, but I think that our message is more powerful. But we have to be very skilled right now in making sure that we don’t go back and that we actually push forward to a new, more inclusive reality, one where belonging is at the forefront. And I feel that our communities, my community for sure, we are already seeing this. We’re living into this. The question is, do we have a seat at the table to really maintain that standard? Do we have the power to maintain that standard and truly be the light forward to a new way of working? It feels very do or die right now for sort of transforming the workplace. It’s exciting and terrifying at the same time.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. I think we’re on the precipice, and we could go either way. One of the things that I would highly suggest right this minute, as we are here today and knowing we will get to another side in a month, in two months, in five months, whenever that is. I’m a firm believer that we need to start equating high performance with people who are showing up, with equality, with inclusivity, with EQ, with empathy, with compassion, with kindness, with creating a blanket of belonging. These things, which you know how I feel about the term soft skills, but these things that are life skills now need to be brought into our workplace, and people need to be given feedback on them. How are they doing with them? When you say proof points, you’re absolutely right. There are plenty of proof points in this world that you can put data against if you need to. But how you make someone feel needs to be right up there with whatever your other KPIs are, I believe.

JENNIFER BROWN: Agreed. Agreed. You’ve probably thought a lot about this, and maybe you do measure it in your job, and I agree with you, this will be table stakes for leaders going forward. And it’s such an awkward skillset, I think, for so many even before this crisis. But who knows? This crisis is also a crash course in empathy, right? It may really embed what you’re talking about in sort of literally people’s eyes have been opened and it’s all around us, so it’s become kind of an undeniable need to have empathy because we’re being faced with so many stories that may not be our experience, but are the experiences of others that we work with, that we care about. So, so much is being revealed right now. The question will be, how do we measure empathy, and who says a manager or leader is empathetic, right?

CLAUDE SILVER: Right.

JENNIFER BROWN: I’ve always wished we could have a way to have a 360 on empathy and get that data. I mean, do you do that now?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yes.

JENNIFER BROWN: And how would that look?

CLAUDE SILVER: We do do that. It is part of our review. The first part of any of our reviews, and this is when we’re doing a, whether it’s 3-month, 6-month, annual review, and don’t get me started on reviews, but they are important for a few reasons. We first measure people on emotional intelligence. We call it honey, and what we ask for in that review is communication, how well do they communicate, not only to their teams, but cross-departmentally. How inclusive are they in terms of bringing people in, not excluding people? We ask, in terms of how empowering is this person? And depending on if you’re a manager or a leader, you’ll have different questions. So we ask that already.

What I want to also say is, this crisis that we’re in right now is giving every single one of us the chance, the opportunity, to evaluate the structure of how we work and how we want to work. And this is the time for culture change. Right now. Right now. This is the time. Not when we get back to work and we’re all sitting there and walking through the hallways and some of us look up and some of us don’t look up. Right now is the opportunity for leaders to stand up to have all hands, to be transparent, to turn the ship, to bring in more compassion, to bring in more empathy, to ask people to really rise to the challenge here and not sit back because they might feel like they don’t have to ask anyone how their day is going.

I just believe this is, as I said, the precipice, and you could go one or two ways, but we will go through this. There will be a door, and we will all walk through that door. And how do you want to walk through that door? Hopefully wiser. Hopefully with more experience under your belt, more resilient, but also kinder, more thoughtful. Those are the things that I hope for. Those are the things I am pushing for on a daily basis, and quite frankly, mandating. This is the time.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. This is the time. And you must be being leaned on a lot because this is an unfamiliar competency for some, anyway, in the previous world. So I wonder about your coaching of leaders to really walk the talk around empathy right now, to dig deep, to be vulnerable, which is for many sort of an unfamiliar competency. It’s something I think that gets a lot of lip service, and I always love the moment in my keynotes when I say, “How many fans of Brene Brown do we have in the audience?” And all these hands go up. But then I think to myself, “And how many of you are actually putting yourself in uncomfortable, vulnerable positions as leaders every single day?” And the point I’m speaking on is obviously inclusion, so my call to managers and leaders that I talk to so much is, “You need to be uncomfortable, because that’s where you’re going to grow. And if this whole topic makes you uncomfortable, you should seek that. Go towards that. Put yourself as the only one in the room so that you understand what that feels like.”

That’s the way you build a muscle is by doing something over and over again and seek the uncomfortable. Because if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not leading. So anyway, I just kind of lay the gauntlet out and say, “Don’t rave about transparency and vulnerability and then leave that vulnerability to the most vulnerable in your organization to do and to model.” That’s ridiculous, right?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yep.

JENNIFER BROWN: So those of us with more comfort, or sort of more in the whatever majority, however we want to define that, it’s incumbent on all of us to be vulnerable right now. And yet I often feel, I’m sure you have many requests for your time to say, “So, how do I lead right now?”

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah.

JENNIFER BROWN: I just wonder, what’s the question you get and how do you guide people to get more comfortable with this, especially at this time when it matters so much?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. Thank you for the question, because one of the things that Gary Vaynerchuk, our CEO, is always saying is, “It’s easy to be a peacetime general, but I want wartime generals.” Whether or not you like the metaphor or not, the point is, you want to have leaders around you who know how to navigate in a crisis. That’s the real deal. So when people are coming to me and they’re asking me how to lead or how to better communicate, these are some of the tips I will give them immediately. Figure out how to make a decision, because people are coming to leaders, they’re coming to me every minute of every day, to not only ask me to make decisions, but ask me to take action. And that’s my job, and I’m happy to do that. And by the way, there was no playbook on COVID and how to act. We all just, every single company and every leader had to get together very quickly and create their own protocols and their own guidelines. So making a decision was something you didn’t really have time to think about. Right?

Parents were taking care of dah dah dah kids, so forth and so on. But the idea of empowering people to look at what’s in front of them, weigh it out, work with a committee if you need to, make a decision, take the action, be very transparent about the why and the what. And I believe that’s something we need to do as we move into the future every single day. Let’s not keep this speed or this hustle or this tenacity by the wayside once we get through that looking glass and that door. We need to continue to take action, continue to empower people to be as transparent as possible, and train people how to do that.

Being transparent doesn’t necessarily mean scaring people. It means finding the right way to communicate with honesty and integrity what is going on and still be able to cheer people on. “Thank you for showing up. I’m so proud of you. This is difficult for all of us. I’m so proud of this culture the way that we have banded together, the way that we are showing up for one another, the way that we are helping our clients navigate these waters, the way that our CRGs are still coming together at their normal hours, but doing virtual happy hours now, rather than real happy hours.” So the questions I get really are, it’s the how. People are “How do I do this? How do I do this?” I can tell them how to do it, but they have to be understanding and communicating the why. Why am I doing this? I think that’s where the darkness is right now. Why? Why? Why?

So, just want to tell people as authentically as you can why we’re doing this, why we’re having to look at our expenses, why we’re having to move this person into that team, whatever it is. Every single company is having to take a very hard look at their spreadsheets right now.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s right. And maybe otherwise, like you just reiterated, because we are a great team, because these communities matter, because this work matters. I think there’s so many positive why’s, also, around like that you just shared. Why are we even doing this? From a motivation perspective, you’re right. I think it’s with all the distraction and the fear, motivation is really… people are really struggling with it every hour of every day. I know for me, I only can see sort of one foot in front of the other right now. I don’t really know what I’m building towards in terms of my own business, so the way… My why was because I love this work and I want to stay connected with my community of other people who are doing this work.

So my solution was to have bi-weekly calls like I’ve been doing, to just stay connected and to listen and to hear and to feel the presence of others. Right? So to combat the isolation and the uncertainty somehow grounds… we have to, I think, ask ourselves what keeps us grounded. I mean, have you had those moments, Claude? I feel like I don’t know if you have those fearful moments.

CLAUDE SILVER: Oh my gosh.

JENNIFER BROWN: Yeah. I know, you always sound like you have it so much together. But how do you then get yourself back grounded as somebody who’s not only… your own personal struggles right now with whatever you may be troubled by, but leading an organization and guiding and answering all the questions that you’re getting, and holding all that space? I think my community is always like, “I’m scared for my job, and my job is to hold up the sky in my organization.” And I am also fearful of so much on a personal level and struggling to bring my full self to this culture, even in the pre-COVID world I struggled with bringing all of myself. And now, the pressure is like 10 times that. So what does that self-care advice look like for those of us who are doing those kinds of jobs?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. Thank you for the question. Someone asked me that, a friend asked me that yesterday, too.

JENNIFER BROWN: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

CLAUDE SILVER: Which I was really appreciative of. Because while I am very calm and very chill and very zen, I go through every other human emotion that everyone else goes through. So one of the things that I have to focus on is the only thing I can control, which is me and what’s in front of me, and that means what is in front of me in this minute and the next 24 hours. So when I future-trip, just like when any of us future-trip, it takes me down a very dark and windy road.

JENNIFER BROWN: Future-trip.

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. I don’t want to do that. I can’t afford to do that right now, so I have to constantly ask myself, “Is what I’m thinking about in the future really true? Is it true? Probably not. It’s a future. It’s a future fear, so let’s focus on what I can control.” I use the Serenity Prayer. I’m not joking. I say it a lot. I focus on the 24 hours in front of me and what is in my control. I do a gratitude list every day, and even if that’s, “I had the best time with my daughter today” or “It was sunny” or “It was Passover and we did a family Zoom.” Whatever it is, I just focus on three things and I write them down on a big board, and that’s really grounding for me, too.

And then I also make sure that I am in contact with my friends so it’s not just my family here, it’s not just my work. I’m making sure that I have a conversation or a Zoom with one friend a day who knows me, who we can laugh, we can giggle, and obviously I think laughter is one of the best remedies for fear. And I’m doing some meditation. I signed up to a couple different apps. Headspace right now is giving away a lot of the meditations for free to New Yorkers. You know, just bringing in as much goodness as I possibly can and not denying that I have fear, because I do, but really focusing on where is it coming from and what can I control? Let’s focus on what I can control.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s some really beautiful advice, and I just picked up a new hashtag, future-trip. Just say no to the spiral that we can go into, because we can’t know, and in a way view that as liberating, because to me if we don’t go down that road, it is a challenge to stay very, very present, and there’s so much to be discovered in being present that I think we’re normally too busy to access. So I know, for me, accessing the deeper stuff right now is accessible to me in a different way. As long as I can put that future-trip to the side. I think that’s the big if, and that’s a muscle that we’re all working on.

CLAUDE SILVER: That’s right.

JENNIFER BROWN: But if you can get to that place of acceptance and think of meaning and significance and what’s really important, right now is a time to just listen to yourself in a really deep way and say, “What do I want? What do I want to be a part of creating out of this? What’s important to me?” It’s very much a fertile time for us as leaders and humans. Claude, this has been so helpful, and I know our audience is going to just eat it up. It’s just the right message, right time, from the right person, and I so appreciate how you’re holding others up right now in the way that you do. I hope everybody will follow you in social. Where do you like to be? Where do you like to share what’s going on for you?

CLAUDE SILVER: Yeah. I share on LinkedIn quite a bit.

JENNIFER BROWN: Okay.

CLAUDE SILVER: And on Instagram. Yeah, and on Twitter.

JENNIFER BROWN: Okay.

CLAUDE SILVER: But anywhere, and I’d love it if people DM me or write me. It might take me a while to get back to everyone, but I do write back. And I’d love to know… I always want to know how I can be of value. That’s really it.

JENNIFER BROWN: That’s so awesome. That’s such a generous offer. Thank you for doing that, and I don’t doubt that the audience will hit you up, as they should.

CLAUDE SILVER: Okay.

JENNIFER BROWN: Keep on leading with heart and reminding us about where the heart lives in all of us, as you do, and thanks so much for joining me, Claude.

CLAUDE SILVER: Thank you, Jennifer. Have a great, great day.

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Claude Silver