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What's in the Ego Bag?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/04/2017

Ego The following is an installment in "Icebreakers 101: Hello, My Name is Problem", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.

Part of the problem we have as professionals is that we are often blind to our own shortcomings. In fact, what is glaringly evident to a manipulative prisoner is completely invisible to the perpetrator of negative behaviors. In corrections, this myopia allows a large target to be placed on our individual backs.

We ignore our less-than-social behaviors like bossiness or secretiveness for many reasons. But, who among us is perfect? It does strengthen staff teamwork (and the corrections profession) when we can honestly admit to something that we need to improve upon when interacting with colleagues at work.
  1. Instructor tells a story – I tell of when I was on a committee many years ago, and I observed any types: the well-meaning bulldozer, the loud activist, and the intellectual who valued words more than respecting the process. I realized that at some time during my career, I was each of these. People can change and it is important to honestly assess oneself.
  2. Have class suggest ten negative behaviors to get the creative juices going. These are to be listed on the board by the instructor or an assistant.
  3. Have class list on paper an honest problem they have when dealing with others in the workplace.
  4. Do not put your name on the fault that you write
  5. These are placed in the bag
  6. One is selected and read aloud
  7. Do not volunteer when yours is randomly selected
  8. Ask class how to improve this behavior
  9. Emphasize to the class that it is important for corrections staff to know their strengths and weaknesses
  10. Add that it is equally important for staff to change a negative behavior
  11. Have class list how mitigating these behaviors makes a safer work environment
  12. Distribute the following article and open for discussion
Climbers and Professionals

There are so many challenges for anyone employed as a corrections professional. But staff division is a very interesting issue in corrections. This is because of the impact of its bad and good potential. On the negative side, it can be the root of security problems. On the other side of that coin is the notion that the solutions are largely in our collective hands.

In general, there are two sorts of deeds done in corrections. One variety can be performed with the idea of earning some sort of credit. The other is done for the sake of doing the job right. In other words, there are climbers and there are true professionals.

A climber can be defined as someone who orchestrates their duties only when others are looking. They do a good job, but it is masked in insincerity and is often self-serving. Theirs is a world of positive messages of their deeds for those in de jure and de facto power. The climber will generally not prform a less-than-desirable task unless it is observed by someone who can advance his or her career.

The true professional does not need an audience or Kudos to do a job well. It is certain that no one can act with truly altruistic motives at all times. However, the true professional does not need the credit as much as the climber.

There are plenty of each kind. And each of us can range between these two poles. One small, self-serving deed does not necessarily taint an otherwise professional record. Unfortunately, most of us remember the negative rather than the positive. If you are honest with yourself, it is probably easier to name more climbers that you know than true vocational heroes.

Climbers, through a long chain of possible events, pose a hazard to operations. They may, in the spirit of subtle self-promotion, spread malicious rumors about non-competing professionals. Tarnished reputations cause disillusion and lower productivity. Formerly committed staff become less security conscious. Those who see through the climber’s activities can become jaded if the climber promotes. The administration may lose authority and credibility if a climber rises in the ranks.

All of this diminishes security. Every little distraction from the main goal of safety for all chips away at the foundation of security. This may not be evident, but it is true.

Just like the prevalent issue of staff division, this problem is easy to identify. The hard part is to realize the solutions. Here are some thoughts about climbers and true professionals that may put the solutions within reach.

Corrections staff can see through ruses. Climbers, no matter how cleverly they manipulate opinions, will eventually be discovered by colleagues. Climbers cannot hide in the long term.

The true professional does not consciously seek to be visible.

It is very easy to deride the overt climber. However, climber bashing exacerbates the balance of harmony in an institution.

Self-scrutiny is essential in this and all issues that surround staff relations.

Humility is a key ingredient.

Many aspirations are also beneficial to the mission. It is the negative examples that sometimes taint the image of promoting.

Some climbers are effective leaders and should get the promotion based on skills rather than popularity.

There is such a thing as too much pride in being altruistic – it is elitist. At the risk of defending the stance of the climber, anti-climbing sentiment can be so potent that it detracts from the mission.

Each of us is a work in progress. No one adheres to the same role at all times.

Climbers and true professionals are just two of the many interesting archetypes we find in our challenging profession. We cannot all be model citizens all the time. We are human. However, the lofty ideal is just a reach from the real. Solutions are within reach.


Without introspection, we are bumbling egoists in a sea of manipulative danger. Take time to assess your faults and share in a group setting. The career you save may be your own!

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” and "Operation Icebreakers: Shooting for Excellence" among others. 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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