When I entered the healthcare industry there was a dearth of emphasis on the detailed management metrics that we now use to evaluate performance.  Today, quantitative analysis rules supreme.

But, like so many other things in life, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing.

“It’s very easy for CEOs to become transactional and focus on the numbers and quantitative analysis, and that can create an emotional detachment,” says Brian Chesky,chief executive officer of Airbnb, the home sharing service.  “I was searching for my identity…and I found it through industrial design.  I think it helped me become a good CEO because it teaches you empathy.  It’s like method acting; you have to put yourself in someone else’s shoes,” Chesky explained in Adam Bryant’s New York Times Corner Office column in the Sunday editions.

His comments struck a chord.  It reminded me that one of the many hard things about being a leader is maintaining perspective and striking the right balance.

The investor-owned hospital industry has contributed much to the way we manage healthcare organizations today.  They brought a certain discipline that was lacking among many not-for-profit hospitals which for years were more focused on mission than stewardship. History shows that approach was not sustainable but neither is a manic obsession with performance metrics without the emotional energy that a true leader can bring to the table. A hospital with a leader who does not understand that balance is an organization without soul.

As a recruiter I am constantly surprised by how many resumes I received from CEOs who previously worked in the investor-hospital management business.  It seems as though the desire for some companies to please Wall Street is more important than their stated mission and values…and seemingly their patients.

One of the most common refrains I hear from these talented leaders are words to the effect, regardless of how successful we were, it was never enough; we are told that we could have, we should have, done better.  

I am not saying that profitability is unimportant or should take a backseat.  Hardly.  As Sister Irene Kraus, the former CEO of what was once known as the Daughters of Charity National Health System, said on more than one occasion, “No margin, no mission.”

By contrast, I am not trying to lump, through guilt by association, all investor-owned hospital CEOs into one pot. Yes, there are some really bad actors  in the  corporate and hospital leadership pot and it would do us all a big favor if they would change careers but there are good and bad leaders on both sides of the healthcare business model aisle. One’s profit status should not be an issue.

Perspective and balance are important attributes that we look for in the senior leaders we recruit and I am concerned that we are slipping a bit in this department as the financial pressures mount.

As the healthcare industry begins a journey through one of the most consequential times in its history, it is important to keep ourselves in check, not to lose sight of our values or our emotional commitment to the greater good.