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Who is your hero?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 05/11/2015

Superhero The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

What do Alexander the Great, Mother Teresa, Superman, Lance Armstrong and Eleanor Roosevelt have in common? They are all easily regarded as heroes.

All of us need heroes. We look up to historical, living, and fictitious figures for their deeds and qualities. Our champions serve as inspirations. Their examples serve as goals for our conduct. What we admire reveals a bit about our inner workings. The attributes that we find inspiring are indicators of our expectations. I believe the following is true: Know your hero, know yourself.

Organizations are not that different from individuals. Members of a group or agency may have heroes in common. For example, the person who discovered a plan for a prisoner uprising and thwarted it is easily regarded as a facility idol.

This icebreaker works very well as a segue into a program on recognizing and repairing staff division. It is divided into three parts: group brainstorming of attributes, the hero survey, and group sharing.

Group Brainstorming of Attributes

Start with the negative. Ask the class for a quality that they do not like in a colleague. To keep this exploration of the negative in the most positive context possible, the instructor should issue one delimiter. The negative quality should be delivered in a general manner. Participants should attack concepts, not individuals. That being said, the instructor can give an example, “I do not appreciate liars.”

Each suggestion is written on a board for all to see. Depending on the size of the class, instructors can limit the numbers needed. In fact, an ominous number like 13 may be the perfect size, if there are a few extroverts in attendance. Since it is generally easier to be negative than positive, the list may be completed in a short time. But the point is to get the class to create the list.

Now it is time to repeat the process and create a list of the same number of positive attributes. With class participation, list the same number of good behaviors. The facilitator can once again start the brainstorming by announcing a favored behavior. For example, “Punctuality is number one on my list of positive behaviors.”

If there is trouble compiling positive attributes, refer to the negative list. Ask the audience if there are any on the negative list that they could place on the positive list as an antonym.

The lists are created primarily to get creative juices flowing. But they have another important use. The answers can serve as a universal testament of irritants and positive behaviors. Do not erase these answers. The material that you will cover in the presentation about staff dynamics may also be touched upon by students in the icebreaker. In effect, the participants support the contents of the presentation with their two lists. The lists can be referred to throughout the day, as they are covered in the presentation.

The Hero Survey

Next comes a bit of a narrative. The goal is to introduce the concept of heroes to the group. I offer my standard introduction. Naturally, each trainer would deliver their own preferred introduction based on their experience and mood.

“We admire our heroes based on their attributes. Your hero may possess one or many of the qualities on our positive list. Positive attribute are the building blocks of those we respect.

Know your hero, know yourself. Who is a super person in your book? Is your hero from sports, music, the military, literature, or real life? Is your hero famous or a relative?

I, for example, admire prolific author Isaac Asimov because of his hard work and clear logic. I also admire Comedian George Carlin, but not for his profanity or his shocking delivery of ideas. Carlin is an icon to me because he has a unique ability to cut through the unnecessary camouflage of our language. And, like many, I admire my father. He is not famous, but he is very decisive and does not tolerate deception.”


How you deliver your introduction will likely have an influence on how much detail the participants will include in their answers to the survey.

This is a very short survey. It consists of only 3 questions. They are:
  1. Who is your hero? (You may submit more than one answer, if you wish)
  2. What do you admire about this person?
  3. Have your heroes changed over the years? If so, why?
Learners may write additional comments on the reverse side of the survey.

Group Sharing

With two opposing lists of attributes compiled, an overview of the trainer’s heroes, and the survey completed, many will be willing to share their answers. You may be surprised by some responses. If nothing else, it helps open the lines of communication. Through sharing, formerly unconnected colleagues may learn that they have some things in common.

Again, the lists of attributes serve as recurring points of reference for the main presentation. The chief link that instructors can make during the sharing part is with heroes and the positive list of attributes. We all need heroes to serve as a focus of our aspiration. But our heroes link to our daily lives. By identifying what we admire and why, we reach a higher plane of understanding of what makes us tick. And knowing whom others admire (and why) helps us to understand them a bit better, as well.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

Visit the Joe Bouchard page

Other articles by Bouchard:


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