Leadership: The Power to Change Performance

cryer, bruce

This week’s guest on Leadership Development News is Bruce Cryer. Bruce is the CEO of HeartMath and has spent the last 30 years researching and teaching innovate approaches to maximizing health and organizing performers. He was named President and CEO of HeartMath in 2000, having helped launch the non-profit Institute of HeartMath with the founder, Doc Childre in 1991. Before that he served as vice president for a biotech company. Bruce was the key architect of programs that incorporate HeartMath’s innovative biomedical research, it’s practical tools and strategies to enhance health performance and creativity, innovation and productivity for both the individual and the organization.

He has successfully guided the HeartMath programs at organizations such as The Mayo Clinic, Duke University, Stanford Medical Center, NASA, Motorola, HP, Kaiser Permanente and many others.

In 2005, HeartMath was honored with the ACHE Management Innovations Award for it’s work with the Delnor Community Hospital in St. Charles, Illinois. They were the finalists for the ABL Innovations in Healthcare award.

In 2007, Mr. Cryer was named one of the top 50 Thought Leaders in Personal Excellence by Leadership Excellence Magazine. He is the co-author with Doc Childre of the book, From Chaos to Coherence: The Power to Change Performance. Bruce is also the lead author of the Harvard Business Review Article in July 2003, Pull The Plus on Stress, and the co-author of An Inner Quality Approach to Reducing Stress and Improving Physical and Emotional Wellbeing at Work, which was published in the Journal, Stress Medicine, in 1997.

He has been interviewed and written for such publications as New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business Review, Christian Science Monitor, Executive Excellence, and others. He is a former actor, singer and dancer on the New York Stage. Bruce has starred in more than 700 performances of internationally acclaimed musical, the Fantastics, in New York City. He lives in Boulder Creek, California with his wife and daughter and enjoys the fabulous California weather, hiking, gardening, and good health.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Bruce, welcome to the call.

Bruce Cryer: Thank you Relly and Cathy. It’s good to be here with you.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: Well, as Relly indicated, I think having met you at a critical time in my life, when I was trying to organize my thinking around how the heart and the mind operated, was instrumental in understanding how the science of happiness worked. I can’t help but ask you, Bruce, what gave you this sense of direction that you are following now? You come from acting and science and all of these wonderful things in your background. Can you tell us how you got to be the CEO of HeartMath?

Bruce Cryer: I’ll give you the short version. As you read Relly, I did start as an actor, dancer and singer in New York, 30-some years ago. I loved it and found great joy in entertaining people and helping them laugh and cry and whatever else they did as they watched the performances. I also found though, that if my heart wasn’t into it on a given night, I didn’t perform nearly as well.

I found that the ability to engage an audience had everything to do with my heart. After a number of years of being a working actor in New York, and I have to stress “working actor” because a lot of actors don’t have the good fortune sometimes. I discovered my heart wasn’t relegated to just being an actor and that my interest in my own personal development, living a very fulfilled life in balance with my health and my personal fulfillment, was something more important to me than just being an actor.

I left in 1978, moved to California, became involved with the very innovative group that was doing publishing around some of the early work in mind/body medicine and the impact that our thoughts and our emotions have on our health and our wellbeing. Right after that I got recruited into the biotech company from a friend of mine who was starting it. We grew very rapidly. I was doing work that was fulfilling on the one hand but I realized that the responsibilities that I had as a leader were outstripping my skills. The innate talents that I had in acting, weren’t always translating into being an effective leader. A lot of it had to do with stress. More and more, I felt that I wasn’t living in sync enough with my own heart. That was causing a tremendous amount of internal tension and stress and i realized I wasn’t being as effective as I really wanted to be.

In 1987 I connected with Doc Childre, the founder of HeartMath. I had met him a number of years earlier and was intrigued by some of his ideas about this heart and mind connection and how to create organizations and lives that were more fulfilling and balanced. But it was in ’87 that I really got connected with him in a more formal way and began to listen to some of his ideas about creating an organization to research how performance can be maximized by a leader, by a mother, by a student; by anyone. I decided to leave the biotech company in order to be one of the group that founded HeartMath in 1991.

HeartMath, for me, has been the culmination of all the years leading up to that of studying my own wellbeing as a performer, then trying to become effective in business and be a leader. HeartMath sort of brought it all together because we study it. When we started as a non-profit research firm, the intent was to look clinically at the biological and cardiovascular and neurological underpinnings of what makes people effective in life and in business. We developed a whole set of techniques based on this research to understand that heart / brain connection and how to help people be much, much more effective.

For me, sometimes when I do presentations, like the old hair club commercials where the guy came on and said, “I’m not just the founder, I’m also a customer.” Well the same is true for me with HeartMath. I use the techniques every day. They have made an enormous difference for me in maintaining balance as our organization has grown internationally, and helped me through some pretty challenging personal issues over the last 10 or 12 years; family health issues. So it’s become very much an integrated system for me in my life, not just as a leader of an organization, but as a father, as a son, as a brother, as a person.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Well thanks, Bruce, that’s a good background to see where you are as a user and a part of the company. For many of our listeners, they might not know exactly what HeartMath is. Can you tell us about what it is and what the mission is?

Bruce Cryer: HeartMath is a system of techniques and technology to help people prevent, recover from, and transform stress in the moment it’s happening. But, to do that in a way that helps their health, helps us be more effective in how we make decisions and how we lead others, how we communicate with others. The scientific piece of HeartMath is really at the core. As I mentioned earlier, we started as a research firm. We now have a separate for-profit organization which is what I run. It’s a training, consulting, product development business. But the research roots are very strong for HeartMath. I think what so often helps people remember who HeartMath is, is those are the stress guys that are into all of the cool research.

We are data junkies. Every intervention we do in organizations anywhere in the world, we collect reams of data on what is changing for the leaders, for the staff, for whoever is involved. That could be data on how their health is changing and how their performance is changing, on how their stress levels are changing and their sleep is improving and energy is improving, as well as organizational metrics around how retention is improving, or productivity is improving.

We love to research, we love to validate. I love the fact that when you did the introductions, Cathy and Relly about your interests in these programs about being fact based and evidence based, we totally agree. There is so much out there today that is subjective. To get objective data on performance improvement and health improvement is to cut to the core of what HeartMath is trying to do. In simple terms, it’s a set of nuts and bolts techniques that people can apply throughout the day, throughout the years, throughout their life to help them perform better with less stress.

Dr. Cathy Greenberg: One of the things that I know our listeners are interested in related to this whole idea of the heart and the brain, is the impact of stress in business and how that works.

Dr. Relly Nadler: Bruce, can you tell us a little bit about some of the impact of stress in the business world. I know when we have talked, you were saying how more popular your programs are being in the corporate world. Can you tell me a little bit about the stress in the corporate world and then we can get into some of things that you do to help those folks out.

Bruce Cryer: Well, let’s imagine the financial meltdown hadn’t just occurred. But since it has, stress in the corporate world is massive. It’s mind boggling what we are all facing today. But as I said, even if it hasn’t occurred, just through the everyday stress that was being tracked by many organizations on corporate effectiveness, was pretty startling. It’s known, for example, that around 75-95% of all doctor visits to your primary care doctor is for something that is stress related. There are also studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one year ago exactly, that said that workplace stress is as damaging for our heart as smoking or high cholesterol diets. That’s a stunning statistic. We don’t let people smoke within 50 feet of the front door of our office building, but they can have massive amounts of stress and we don’t pay much attention to it in general.

Another study came out in late 2007, that showed that fully 1/3 of all American’s, this is pre meltdown, pre gas prices going through the roof, 1/3 a year ago were already reporting extreme levels of stress on a regular basis. That is one in three people in every workplace. One in three people on every street you walk down. 100,000,000 Americans saying that they are feeling extreme stress and that was pre all the things we have had to face and the worry for the future that we are now dealing with.

There has even been a study showing that people with high debt stress are at far greater risk for heart attacks and a number of other chronic conditions treated seven times higher risk as people without the stress of the debt burden that they are now personally facing.

There are reams more data, if I said anymore your listeners would get stressed out. They probably would switch to another channel. It’s extreme and stress is sort of coming out of the closet; everybody has got stress and it’s killing a lot of people and making costs go through the roof for most corporations at least in the area of healthcare. It’s something that we have to address. So there is an enormous interest now in organizations in dealing with this problem because so much of the stress that people feel is around issues that are beyond their control.

We cannot control the sub-prime meltdown. We cannot control the capital market implosions. We can’t control so many things. What can we control? We can control how we perceive, how we react, mentally, emotionally and physically to events. We can control the resilience that we can build up every day through practices and techniques and technology we use to develop that. HeartMath has come along, it’s been seventeen years developing all of these evidence and data and great stories, at a time right now that we are under, currently that says, if there was ever a time to deal with our stress and deal with it in practical, pragmatic, really useful way, now is the time. So that is what we are here to do.

Find out more about what Bruce Cryer and HeartMath can do to help you in your leadership roles, with stress reduction. Listen to the complete recording above, without commercials.



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