As charters and other autonomous schools grow to serve larger percentages of students both nationally and internationally, it is becoming increasingly important to understand how to best support and prepare leaders in this alternative setting. This study focuses on how charter school leaders perceived pre and in-service preparation and support. These perceptions matter because they may shape the early success, efficacy and commitment of leaders, which are critical issues given the higher than average principal turnover rates in charters. We analysed in-depth interviews with school leaders from independent (standalone) charter schools and those managed by a central management organisation and found that those leaders affiliated with Charter Management Organizations participated in a variety of formally designed pre-service and in-service learning experiences such as residency programs, mentoring, networking and ongoing coaching. By contrast, leaders in standalone charter schools largely directed their own learning–for example, joining informal networks with other nearby charter principals, or reading professional texts. For both kinds of leaders, the availability and quality of mentorship most significantly shaped the perceived quality of learning for all leaders.