Unsurprising to many, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, announced his resignation on August 24, 2011. He stated in his resignation letter, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

In 2004, Jobs announced to his employees that he had been diagnosed with a rare form of pancreatic cancer, but intended to fight and keep his role as CEO. However, the public was not granted this privileged information, as Jobs provided countless excuses for his diminishing physique and numerous medical leaves. Many asked why Jobs and Apple went to great extents to keep Jobs’ cancer diagnosis a secret. Illness is often seen as a weakness in leadership, and as Apple is a publicly traded company, with a lot of money on the line, a CEO cancer diagnosis could cause investors to panic and spark a financial frenzy. Indeed, it was smart for Jobs to keep his cancer diagnosis a secret for as long as he did. It provided him with the opportunity to continue in his leadership role and take Apple to the next level with the assistance of Timothy Cook, head of worldwide sales and operations, during his medical leaves.

Switching industries, Venezuela President Hugo Chavez just underwent two rounds of chemotherapy in Cuba as a result of a cancerous tumor found in his pelvic region. Immediately following the public revelation of his diagnosis, he conveyed that he “had” cancer, in the past tense, and that chemotherapy was just for preventative measures. The severity of Chavez’s diagnosis is unknown but one thing is certain: he got the memo about cancer threatening high-powered careers. No need to look any further than Jobs. Cancer, or any life-threatening disease, is an automatic career threat, not simply because of the physical toll it takes on your body, but also because of the public’s perception of cancer as a leadership limitation.

Perhaps if the public wants honesty, they should be prepared to face the fact that not every individual with cancer wants to give up their career livelihood. So long as the company is doing well and these leaders can perform expected duties, why should the public doubt their capacity to live and succeed?

Do you think it’s fair that cancer threatens high-powered careers? Should the public allow leaders to decide if they can still perform job duties without judgment? Drop your thoughts!


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