#AllClimbAllTheTime: The Programs Elevating DISH’s World-Class Leadership Development

DISH believes opportunity is its greatest benefit — and that means preparing its team members for their next step. Built In sat down with three members of its leadership development team to find out how DISH cultivates greatness.

Written by Jenny Lyons-Cunha
Published on Aug. 23, 2023
#AllClimbAllTheTime: The Programs Elevating DISH’s World-Class Leadership Development
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Leaders are made, not born. 

This is the crux of the 70-20-10 learning framework, which attempts to distill the essence of leadership into tangible action. In this framework — which has been incubated by the Center for Creative Leadership for over 30 years — development efforts should be broken down into 70 percent practical experience, 20 percent mentorship connections and 10 percent coursework. 

DISH has transformed this concept into a tightly honed leadership development program. Headlined by three distinct pathways — “Explore,” “Foundations” and “Ascend” — the professional growth suite offers a measured blend of experience, exposure and training to elevate leaders of every level. 

The program, and the resulting word of mouth participants generate, has enhanced the learning culture within DISH. As team members are able to clearly see and articulate paths for growth through involvement in this program, their sense of possibility is heightened. 

“‘The DISH Way’ includes leveraging our most significant, lasting benefit: opportunity,” said Senior Manager of Talent Management Pete Leckemby. “This stems from the philosophy that you're only bound by your curiosity and your willingness to step into greater challenges.”    

DISH’s style of leadership development acknowledges that growth can serve as preparation for a new opportunity — or happen in the midst of it. Put simply: Growth isn’t linear, nor is it always conveniently planned. DISH’s leadership programs embrace the many facets of professional advancement. 

“At DISH, you’re only bound by your curiosity and your willingness to step into greater challenges.”


“Our programs are rooted in our value of curiosity,” Leckemby said. “Everything starts with a hunger to learn and a willingness to challenge the status quo. ‘Are you willing to take advantage of the opportunities that come your way?’ We’re committed to the continuous development of those who answer this question with a ‘yes.’” 

In DISH’s various pathways, Leadership Development Manager Michael White sees a cycle of paying growth forward. 

“We know great leaders create more productive, happier team members,” said White. “We designed these pathways to meet leaders where they are, provide a holistic perspective and give them the tools to scale growth within their team.” 

Program Manager Katie Benik agrees.

“We’ve created something I haven’t seen in other large organizations,” Benik said. “We’ve built an ecosystem that doesn’t just develop one level of leader, it nurtures a partnership with leaders at every level of their careers.” 

The partnership Benik spoke of is evident throughout DISH’s pathways, from Explore all the way through Ascend, creating communities of DISH team members who can lean on one another as they learn and grow within the organization. 

DISH’s leadership pathways strive to address three levels of perpetual growth, blooming leaders within an evolving company within an ever-changing world.

“It’s a continuous learning format built on a framework of core programs,” Leckemby said. “The backbone of our programs is designed to grow as the organization needs us to.”


From TV to 5G, DISH strives to reimagine the future of connectivity. For over 40 years, DISH has aimed to challenge the status quo and evolve its company to anticipate opportunities for business growth, industry innovation and greater customer choice.


Exploring New Heights

“Being asked to choose a DISH program is both my favorite and least favorite question,” said Benik, laughing. “It’s like choosing between my two children, which I could never do. 

“I’ll start at the beginning, though, with our Explore program,” she added pragmatically. 

In its pilot phase, the Explore program started with a simple question: How could DISH open the leadership conversation at the individual contributor level?

“We wanted to build a pipeline of assessing interest in leadership and instilling a leadership mindset early on,” she said. 


“[With the Explore program], we wanted to build a pipeline of assessing interest in leadership and instilling a leadership mindset early on.”


Objectives of the program include fostering emotional intelligence, equipping future leaders with tools for communication and dealing with conflict and putting these lessons into action. 

If enrollees in the program are any indication, the future is bright for the emerging leaders of Explore.

“There are four to six cohorts in flight at any given time, with about 20 people in each cohort,” said Benik. “Over the past few months, hundreds of people have engaged with Explore.”

In a workforce 14,000 strong, about 700 individual contributors are identified as high potential per year, 65 percent of whom participate in and graduate from the Explore program, Benik noted. 

“We love to grow our leaders internally,” she said. “This program is a reflection of that love.” 


DISH team member Alicia Schalla sits in a thoughtful pose behind her nametag at a professional development event.


Building Strong Foundations 

“Foundations is our program for first-level leaders,” said White. “As the name suggests, it was born from the concept that building anything great starts with a strong foundation.” 

In the tiered pathway, participants follow one of three learning programs: Foundations One, Two or Three. Each program yields ambassadors of DISH’s culture, stellar communicators and first-level leadership with command of the company’s vision. 

“We’re providing not just managerial basics, but opening discourse on our culture and why we believe in it,” said White. “We’re answering the question, ‘How do we lead in this company at this moment?’” 

A key piece of Foundations One, Two and Three — which have seen roughly 400 participants pass through its pathways this year — is inclusive leadership.  

“DEI is built into all of our programs, from hiring to onboarding to leadership and beyond,” Leckemby said. 

All managers receive intensive DEI-focused training in addition to their Foundations work, he added, as a means of delivering on the company’s commitment to creating inclusive team environments.  

Photo of DISH team members watching a presentation at a professional development event.


‘All Climb, All the Time’

At the culmination of the Ascend pathway is Climb — DISH’s program for rising executives — where participants must develop and pitch an initiative designed to “carry the company into its best days.” The project is not an exercise but a call to tangible action. 

The result has been a crop of high-impact features enacted throughout the company by its burgeoning executives. The end of Climb is just the beginning of a broader journey of growth.

“Climb is just a warm-up,” said Benik. “We’ve found that six months out from the program, about 75 percent of people had taken action on their proposal.” 

One initiative, called Climbers Connect, stands out to Benik as a flourishing example of the program’s influence. The creator of the initiative was inspired by the access they were afforded to executives within the Climb program. 

“This particular Climber volunteered to take that premise into another program in our ecosystem,” said Benik. “Now they are the senior manager coming in to pay forward expertise to managers and first-level supervisors.” 

The karmic nature of the program has helped its impact spread far beyond the original program, White chimed in.

“Climbers Connect has really helped thread a theme through some of our other programs,” he said. “Their ability to connect with our frontline managers and Foundations has become so meaningful."


“Climbers Connect has helped thread a theme through our other programs — their ability to connect with our frontline managers and Foundations [program members] has become so meaningful.”


Benik nodded in agreement. 

“These examples make me feel like the work is so worthwhile,” she said. “There’s a reason I adopted the hashtag #AllClimbAllTheTime — connections like these lead DISH into our future.” 

Of the roughly 400 professionals who have passed through Climb, nearly 60 percent experience some sort of job promotion or role change within the first year after the program. 

“The gold standard in measuring the impact of learning and development is answering the question ‘What happens after the program ends?’” said Benik.  


Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images provided by DISH.

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