Wanini Kireri

Wanini Kireri the Commandant of the Prisons Staff Training College (PSTC) at Ruiru.

| File | Nation Media Group

Vital leadership lessons from trail-blazing prisons reformist

What you need to know:

  • Ms Kireri combines theoretical and practical aspects of management and leadership throughout the 14 chapters of the 169-page book.
  • She also discusses the role of interpersonal skills and how to strike a healthy balance between hard and soft skills.

Picture this: you are the head of a government institution that is minding its affairs quietly in a peri-urban setting, away from the nosy and noisy public glare and stare. Then suddenly, a foul wind carrying a deadly virus from afar sweeps ashore spreading shivers and panic across the country.

The President declares the virus a national pandemic and orders a raft of drastic measures to contain its spread. It is a crisis of international proportions as the whole world whirls in shock and confusion over the unprecedented emergency. Your charges and everyone else in the institution is waiting upon you for direction, help and – yes – leadership.

This is the fate that faced author Wanini Kireri who is the Commandant of the Prisons Staff Training College (PSTC) at Ruiru, when the Covid-19 hit the country in March last year.

As the head of the largest correctional services training facility, she had a daunting task navigating the crisis that called for utmost care, precision of thought and swift decision-making. This was barely two years after she had taken over the leadership of the (PSTC) and was looking forward to the first pass-out parade of trainees under her stewardship.

This and other dramatic scenes and scenarios are contained in a new book that is at once inspirational and instructional.

Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer

The cover page of the book Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer by Wanini Kireri.

Photo credit: Pool

The just-released Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer, published by Bafeafrica Inspiration Networks is also autobiographical as it is laced with Ms Kireri’s extensive experience in the civil service.

“For me, it was one of the greatest challenges I have ever faced in my career,” says the author and Commandant who has served in various senior positions at the Prisons department among them as Nairobi Regional Commander and Director of Legal Affairs at the Prisons Headquarters. She also served as Director and Vice-Chair of the Departmental Human Rights Committee.

“Not only did I have members of staff and their families residing within the Prisons Staff Training College,” she adds, “but I also had almost 2,800 trainees whose safety depended on me as the head of the institution.”

Leadership Through the Eyes of a Prisons Officer is a veritable manual on management and leadership. As an officer who has risen steadily through the ranks of the Prisons Service, Ms Kireri combines theoretical and practical aspects of management and leadership throughout the 14 chapters of the 169-page book.

Wanini Kireri

Wanini Kireri the Commandant of the Prisons Staff Training College (PSTC) at Ruiru.

Photo credit: Pool

But first “What is leadership?” she poses at the beginning, jolting the reader to attention as she delves into the various nuances of the term. She says that leadership is not just about positions of authority, its trappings and privileges. Rather, it is about building people and lifting others to attain their full potential.

In a simple, easy to read manner, Ms Kireri shares tips on how to build a close-knit and trustworthy team which she says enhances productivity, makes workplaces enjoyable places to be and helps in retaining employees. She also dwells on the importance of carrying out needs assessment in organisations to help dispense the right medicine to cure challenges.

And even as she rhetorically poses the age-old question as to whether leaders are born or made, she goes ahead and emphatically sides with the latter. She then systematically takes the reader through steps towards developing his or her own unique leadership style.

She also discusses the role of interpersonal skills and how to strike a healthy balance between hard and soft skills.

“While hard skills, such as learning to use new computer software, are essential for the day-to-day operations of an organisation and are easy to measure, soft skills are vital when it comes to leading people, solving problems, earning clients’ trust and sealing important deals in negotiations to attain an organisation’s main goals,” she writes in her lucid, conversational style.

The Disruptor: Championing Reforms in Kenya's Prison Service with Passion

The cover page of the book 'The Disruptor: Championing Reforms in Kenya's Prison Service with Passion' by Wanini Kireri.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

She then takes the reader through six essential interpersonal skills: Clear and effective communication; decisiveness and swift decision-making, and ability and readiness to solve problems. Others are ability to organise, motivate and direct other people towards a common goal; empowering a new crop of leaders; as well as empathy and emotional intelligence.

In her own words, the book is intended as a resource to help you as you work to become the great leader that you can be. “Remember true leadership is not just about yourself but also about building the people who work under you and helping them become the best employees and humans that they can be.”

Ms Kireri is a household name within the Kenyan correctional sector. She joined the Prisons Service as a cadet officer in 1982 and has over the years scaled the heights to today’s perch near the very apex of the prisons department.

She is regarded as one of the greatest pioneers and champions of reforms within the Kenya Prisons Service and for this she has received numerous prestigious awards including the Head of State commendation Elder of the Burning Spear (EBS) in 2020. Others are Public Servant of the Year Award (PSOYA) in 2015 and the Crime Si Poa Lifetime Achievement Award (2019).

The strength of Ms Kireri’s book lies in the fast-paced writing and the practical examples that accompany the slices of wisdom dispensed with grace and aplomb.

Coming as it does after her first book, The Disruptor: Championing Reforms in Kenya's Prison Service with Passion, is yet another feather in the cap of a truly phenomenal woman.

Mr Kibet is an editor in Nairobi. Email [email protected]

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