Executive development is the whole of activities aimed at developing the skills and competencies of those that (will) have executive positions in organisations. While "executive" and "manager" and "leader" are often used interchangeably, "executive" is commonly used to signify the top 5% to 10% of the organization. Similarly, "development" and "training" and"education" are often used as synonyms, however "development" is generally seen as the more encompassing of the three in terms of activities that build skills and competencies.
While it is typical to find organizations that have dedicated corporate training & development people and processes, it is not always the case that an organization will have a dedicated executive development set of activities. In some organizations (typically large multi-nationals), there is a separate executive development team, in other organizations executive development is handled as one of many activities by the larger corporate training group, and in yet other scenarios there is no executive development activity to speak of.
In contrast to other corporate training & development activities, which have as their core purpose to build tactical skills for employees, executive development plays a different role for the organization. Indeed some executive development is conducted for the purpose of building tactical skills (sometimes referred to as "hard skills" such as business fundamentals- finance, marketing, operations and also "soft skills" such as communication and team building), yet executive development is also used to evaluate future potential future executives as well as a mechanism for the CEO and the executive team to cascade their strategies, goals, and even elements of the culture to the rest of the management team and ultimately the organization. In the best of cases, executive development not only helps an organization execute its key strategies, it can also help provide input to the strategy creation process. In this way, executive development is much more strategic than typical corporate training & development which is used for most employees of an organization.
While executive development continues to become enriched by many approaches, one approach, adult development and its subfield Positive Adult Development is beginning to create opportunities for what has been essentially reserved for academic research to become an increasing part of executive practices.