Margaret Chan, W.H.O. Director-General

Listed as number 58 in Forbes most powerful people for 2012, Margaret Chan is no stranger to handling pressure while keeping a steady eye on the road.

Now on her second term as the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Chan’s star rose from the meticulous Hong Kongers to the calculating eyes of the world when she managed sweeping illnesses such as the 1997 H5N1 avian influenza and the 2003 SARS outbreak.

DISEASES. Since Chan is leading a world health agency, naturally, one of the benchmarks on her would be on how she’d maneuver in health crises.

Back in 1997 when the bird flu popped up in Hong Kong, Chan tried to calm the residents but fatefully got burned when the crisis turned into an epidemic. Still, she displayed strength and critical thinking when she helped end the epidemic with the slaughter of 1.5M chickens even with heavy political opposition. Would there have been another way for a Leader to handle this? Well, that was it. To solve a problem, eliminate the problem.

DEMEANOR. On the outside, Leaders are naturally relaxed and poised but on the inside – they are constantly thinking. Notice, whenever there is an outbreak or problem of sorts, Chan appears passive. Just like what happened during the HK SARS outbreak in 2003.

However, in such cases, she should understand that time is gold. You’ve got to calm the people. You’ve got to solve the problem. Fast. Thence, be a little more vocal. Yet again, could Chan have been hesitatant because of her 1997 experience, or could it be that she just hasn’t found a viable solution then? See, one of the contributing problems may have been HK’s health care system but remember – calmness is good but too much of it makes you seem incompetent.

THINKING. When Chan visited North Korea in 2010, she assessed that while malnutrition is a problem, NK’s health system is good mainly because of the abundance of medical staff. This statement then drew criticisms and as The Wall Street Journal put it – her statement was “surreal” for either wanting to maintain contact with NK, or just allowing herself to be fooled.

Many questions here. First, Chan’s assessment was particularly about the number of medical staff, why make it a big deal? Second, has WSJ actually inspected NK’s health care system? Third, there seems to be an area that is politically inclined thus it’d be interesting to know – was Gro Harlem Brundtland‘s appraisal of NK’s health care system politically induced? Finally, WHO is about health. And it encompasses the world. Isn’t NK part of the planet? Wouldn’t any outbreaks or breakthroughs in NK affect us as well?

Trustworthy Leaders are only biased to what is right.

At any rate, the WHO, more than just focusing on people with the greatest need or on women’s health – Chan should be proactive in her Leadership by regularly getting reports on pollution levels, garbage disposals, medical access, medicine development, plant and animal life as well as the food industry on every region to prevent any outbreaks or serious diseases.

What’s your take?