Skip main navigation

How do organisations approach leadership development?

Discover and categorise the 4 leadership development approaches: absent, reactive, deliberate, and strategic.
Tooth wheel mechanism lay-over with LEADERSHIP concept letters

Leadership development strategies can vary significantly across different organisations. 

In this article, we will explore four distinct approaches to leadership development: absent, reactive, deliberate, and strategic.  By understanding these approaches, you can identify the most effective path to nurturing and growing your organisation’s leadership talent.


You might have come across organisations like this before, where leadership development and leadership success are left to chance.

In organisations with an absent approach to leadership development, there is little to no emphasis on developing future leaders. Leadership positions are often filled based on seniority or immediate needs, rather than on a well-defined developmental plan. This approach can lead to a lack of competent leaders, resulting in stagnation, limited innovation, and a struggle to deliver on strategy. Absent leadership development can negatively impact morale and engagement within a team as team members are left longing for growth and development. Not to mention coming up against sub-optimal leaders.

With the absent approach, leadership roles are filled by default rather than design. There is a lack of investment in developing leadership skills or identifying potential leaders within the organisation. As a result, employees may feel overlooked and undervalued, leading to decreased motivation and productivity. Without a deliberate focus on leadership development, organisations miss out on the opportunity to nurture talent and create a pipeline of future leaders.


The reactive approach to leadership development emerges when organisations respond to specific challenges or crises. It’s the equivalent of putting out spot fires.

Leadership development activities are initiated in response to immediate needs, such as a sudden talent gap or an unexpected change in leadership. This approach focuses on short-term fixes rather than long-term planning. Reactive organisations often rely on external consultants or training programs to address immediate gaps, but they may lack a cohesive and sustained leadership development strategy. While this approach addresses urgent concerns, it does not foster a culture of continuous growth and development.

Reactive leadership development is characterised by a “band-aid” approach, addressing immediate skill gaps or leadership voids as they arise. Organisations may react to a crisis or realise the need for leadership development when they face significant challenges or a decline in performance. However, this approach tends to be short-sighted, as it fails to address the long-term development needs of leaders. Without a proactive plan, organisations risk being caught off guard in the face of future leadership transitions or evolving business demands.


The deliberate approach to leadership development signifies a more proactive stance. Organisations embracing this approach recognise the importance of developing leaders but may lack a comprehensive strategy. Leadership development initiatives are typically ad hoc, driven by individual departments or managers who see the value in investing in their teams. These organisations may provide training programs, mentorship opportunities, or occasional coaching to nurture leadership skills. While the deliberate approach shows a greater commitment to development, it often lacks coordination, consistency, and alignment with broader organisational goals.

Deliberate leadership development involves intentional efforts to identify and nurture potential leaders within the organisation. Managers and departments may take the initiative to provide development opportunities for their team members, but the approach may not be unified or standardised across the organisation. There may be pockets of excellence in leadership development, but without a cohesive strategy, it becomes challenging to scale those efforts and ensure consistency in the development of leaders throughout the organisation.


The strategic approach to leadership development is the gold standard in organisational commitment to investing in future leaders. In organisations following this approach, leadership development is a core part of the business strategy. The development of leaders is seen as a long-term investment, with clear goals, systematic processes, and integration with the organisation’s vision and values. Strategic organisations actively identify high-potential individuals, create personalised development plans, and provide ongoing support, feedback, and coaching. They also establish leadership pipelines, succession plans, and promote a culture of continuous learning and growth. Strategic leadership development ensures a robust talent pool, agility in adapting to change, and the ability to drive innovation.

Strategic leadership development requires a proactive and comprehensive approach. Organisations adopting this approach prioritise the identification, assessment, and development of future leaders. They invest in leadership programs, executive coaching, mentoring, and other developmental opportunities that align with organisational goals.

This approach fosters a culture of leadership excellence, where talent is nurtured, and potential is maximised. Strategic organisations understand that effective leadership is a strategic differentiator, and they commit the necessary resources and effort to develop leaders who can navigate complexities, inspire teams, and drive organisational success.

Effective leadership development is a crucial component of organisational success. By understanding and reflecting on the different approaches to leadership development, you can evaluate your organisation’s current strategies and identify opportunities for growth. Moving from an absent or reactive approach to a deliberate or strategic one requires a shift in mindset and a long-term commitment to nurturing leadership talent. By investing in a comprehensive and sustained leadership development strategy, organisations can build a strong leadership bench, foster a culture of growth, and secure their future in an ever-changing business landscape.

Share your thoughts

Reflect on your organisation’s approach to leadership development. Are you taking the absent, reactive, deliberate, or strategic path? Explore the impact of each approach on your team’s growth, innovation, and overall success.
This article is from the free online

Designing and Implementing a Leadership Development Strategy

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now