Leadership isn’t a skill set that manifests naturally after a job promotion. It’s forged through intentional training, years of hands-on people experience and a willingness to take risks.
But for many individuals, that next big role opens unexpectedly — and suddenly an individual contributor is managing a team of their former peers. Instead of fumbling through, paralyzed by uncertainty and inexperience, what if there was a way to compact years of leadership training into only a few months?
Enter Rent the Runway’s Emerging Leaders Program.
“Leading others requires a certain skill set, but it’s too often assumed that because everybody has been managed at some point, you automatically know how to do that with other people,” said Elisa DiMauro, senior manager of learning and development. “When we were thinking about building the Emerging Leaders Program, we boiled down leadership to a set of abilities in the same way that we would onboard a new hire: We’re going to teach you how to do the job that you were hired to do based on this job description, we’re going to teach you those requirements, and we’re going to set you up for success.”
RENT THE RUNWAY’S MULTIFACETED MISSION
Rent the Runway doesn’t just strive to change how people shop — it’s on a mission to democratize the fashion industry via shared access to a dream designer closet. “I think an important part of our vision is we want to rethink the way that people get dressed,” DiMauro said. “The core idea of the business is about offering endless variety while providing an alternative to fast fashion. But the other crucial part is making real fashion accessible to everyone through our relationships with more than 800 designer brands.”
As part of that process, DiMauro worked directly with HR business partners and other people leaders to determine five initial topics that could structure the three-month-long training course. After analyzing top managers, focus points like “relationship-building” and “strategic prioritization” emerged. It also gave DiMauro the unique opportunity to review performance gaps and brainstorm how to close them.
“The end goal of the program was not only to develop an already solid leader who’s obsessed with thinking bigger, doing better and disrupting the status quo. We also want to empower those same performers to pass new skills on to others,” DiMauro said.
After the course curriculum was finalized, 14 participants across tech, marketing, operations, customer experience, fashion and finance were nominated to participate in the first-ever program, which included five forums in an interactive, in-person classroom setting and four in-the-field practice sessions.
When the program ended, one hundred percent of participants surveyed said it developed them as a leader and made them more effective in their role.
“Managers can really be multipliers at Rent the Runway,” said Tanya Kaur, senior manager of fashion operations and Emerging Leaders Program participant. “Not only because of the impact they have managing a direct team, but also because of the example they set to other employees.”
“When I’m ready to take on even bigger roles, what I learned from the Emerging Leaders Program will continue to serve me well.”
‘I could make a greater difference’
After joining Rent the Runway in 2014 as an engineering individual contributor, David Lee was open to change, but he knew that growing into a manager would require new skills.
“When I received the invitation to participate in the Emerging Leaders Program, I welcomed the opportunity wholeheartedly,” he said. “Seeing that Rent the Runway was willing to invest in me as a manager helped me believe that I could make a greater difference.”
Kaur accepted her nomination with similar enthusiasm. Although she joined the company in the spring of 2021 as a team leader of three, Kaur saw the impact other programs had on leaders and wanted in.
“A good leader embraces diverse strengths and recognizes that each person on your team possesses something unique,” Kaur said. “It becomes your job as a leader to understand that and meet them where they are to develop to the next level. I wanted to tackle that challenge through the program.”
THE PROGRAM’S FIVE INITIAL TOPICS
- Building relationships and fostering belonging: the bedrock of strong leadership
- Feedback: delivering constructive guidance that equips people to replicate what’s good and change what’s not
- Coaching: getting your people better, faster
- Strategic prioritization: building and maintaining time management systems that help you work on the most important work
- Impactful interactions: reimagining one-on-one meetings as a place for practice and development
Throughout the course, Lee and Kaur were able to connect with mentors, ask hard questions, engage in interactive practice sessions and analyze out-of-the-box templates through a leadership lens.
“The whole experience was like going on a ride,” Lee said. “I gained the equivalent of years of hands-on experience because the content and the exercises were appropriate for a leader at any level of the company.”
For Kaur, the program went beyond sharing philosophical management principles and relevant articles. The environment of trust meant that anything said would remain in a safe space, especially when it came to delivering effective feedback.
“Knowledge around coaching, precise praise, developmental feedback and active listening isn’t just for your 9-5 job — it’s for your whole life.”
“I think we’ve all been on the receiving end of someone saying ‘That was a nice job’ — but wouldn’t it feel so much better if we knew exactly what was good about it?” Kaur said.
After each session, DiMauro and her team assessed anonymous feedback gathered through tear-off sheets about what was working, what to cut and what to expand upon to create more value for the current class and improve lessons for future participants.
“I found myself applying what we learned not just at work, but also in my personal endeavors,” Kaur added. “Knowledge around coaching, precise praise, developmental feedback and active listening isn’t just for your 9-5 job — it’s for your whole life.”
‘I have never stopped growing’
When asked why Rent the Runway stood out during her career search, Kaur didn’t skip a beat.
“I immediately sensed the intentionality,” she said. “We intentionally identify, recognize and incorporate our values and leadership competencies into our daily work. It’s not just something that once upon a time you hear when onboarding.”
“I think the idea of empowerment is woven deeply into the fabric of our culture.”
For Lee, what sold him was the company’s dedication to empowerment: both for the customers they serve and for employees through sustainable fashion. “I think the idea of empowerment is woven deeply into the fabric of our culture,” he said. “It’s a great place for people who are ambitious and want to make an impact, because in the nine years I’ve been here, I have never stopped growing.”
By fostering a supportive environment built on intentional company values and thoughtful leaders, DiMauro is confident that workplace satisfaction at Rent the Runway will only grow. “It’s satisfaction at work that keeps us motivated and engaged,” she said. “And the person who impacts both of those aspects the most is probably your manager. Quality leadership is the secret ingredient to happier people producing stronger work.”