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Botched Credibility

Give John Kerry another Purple Heart, this time for shooting himself in the foot with a "botched" stay-in-school joke. Campaigning Monday on behalf of California Democratic gubernatorial challenger Phil Angelides, Kerry told an audience at Pasadena City College, "You know, education, if you make the most of it, you study hard, you do your homework, and you make an effort to be smart, you can do well. If you don't, you get stuck in Iraq." Kerry insists he mangled the punch line of a jab intended to poke fun at President Bush, meaning to say instead, "you get us stuck in Iraq." Whatever his intention, he appeared to insinuate that U.S. troops are poorly educated, prompting his own political party to swift-boat-kick him back home to sit out the rest of the campaign.

Kerry is not the only politician who ever misspoke. Just last week, President Bush was in Iowa stumping for Republican congressional candidate Jeff Lamberti. Twice during his speech, the President referred to Lamberti as "Dave." But what makes the latest Kerry gaffe remarkable is the Senator's refusal to apologize for getting his foot caught between his tongue and his cheek. Had Kerry simply said, "Oops, that didn't come out the way I intended it. I'm sorry if I offended anyone," this would already be old news. Instead, he accused his critics of distorting his message for their political gain and destroyed his in the process.

Too many leaders are reluctant to apologize for their blunders, perhaps out of fear of showing weakness. That's unfortunate, because humility goes a long way with employees. Workers know that being the boss is difficult and that their leaders are susceptible to an occasional error of judgment. They also know that it takes a strong leader to admit a mistake and to say, "I'm sorry." If you're in charge, expect to mess up from time to time. Just don't botch your chance to apologize.
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