Thoughts on CEO Dennis Wint’s exit from the Franklin Institute

Dennis WintOne of Philadelphia’s keystone institutions, the Franklin Institute, absorbed the news last week that its longtime CEO, Dennis Wint, is stepping down next year. Much has been written about the singular legacy Wint has forged at the Franklin Institute, and his departure announcement was nicely timed with a milestone toward completion of its $41.5 million Karabots Pavillion, a 53,000-square-foot addition that will open in June 2014.

Wint’s departure and the transition the Franklin Institute is experiencing – board chair Marsha Perelman is also stepping down from the board of directors – illustrate key principles we explore in depth in our new book, “When Leaders Leave.”

Wint told Newsworks’ Peter Crimmins:

“There’s a lot of transition, and to have me transition earlier than the end of the year would put another unknown factor in the equation. I said I’ll stay through the end of the year, to get us through a lot of this transition, and then it will be time to step down.”

That quote shows how thoughtfully Wint and the Franklin Institute are beginning this key transition period.

It’s commonplace for an organization and its community to greet news of a longtime leader’s exit with claims that the organization “is in good shape,” that she or he “forged alliances” and took the organization in “new directions” while “raising a lot of money.” We hear those clichés all the time. In Wint’s case, all of those claims have the added benefit of being true.

Now a search is underway for Wint’s successor. It’s a perfect opportunity for the Franklin Institute’s board to reconcile the strong legacy Wint leaves behind with their vision for the Institute’s future. One aspect they may want to consider is an element of leadership transition that’s too easily and too often overlooked: communication and transparency within the organization.

Excellent work in this area has been done by Rose L. Kennedy of The Kennedy Group, whose change model is reprinted in “When Leaders Leave” by gracious permission of Ms. Kennedy.

When an organization is being left by a longtime leader in relatively good shape – as, by all accounts, the Franklin Institute is being left by Dennis Wint – it’s easy to think that the transition to new leadership will go smoothly. And it’s too easy to overlook the anxiety that might accompany the news of the change among the organization’s staff. But no matter how well-positioned the organization is at the time of the longtime leader’s departure, it’s natural for staff to wonder and worry about what changes a new leader will bring.

That’s why it’s key for the board and the people handling the leadership transition to communicate with staff throughout the process. Transparency breeds trust, and trust enables an organization’s rank-and-file to focus on their work and not worry about the future under a new leader.

It’s important to acknowledge that people react in different ways to change, and that apprehension and fear are natural and normal responses to turnover at the top of an organization.

Of course, another excellent way to gird an organization for leadership change is to buy numerous copies of “When Leaders Leave!”