Senior officials in public organizations have a variety of training needs. Yet, the reduction in training budget is often a primary means of improving budget balance. This contradiction calls for a comparative investigation into executive development. Focusing on eleven European administrative systems, the paper investigates (i) whether bureaucracies lead the way, or lag behind, in the development of specialized training programmes, (ii) whether there is a widespread understanding that specific topics are important for training, and (iii) whether senior officials vary in their perception of the usefulness of training for current posts and for promotion. Based on an institutional analysis, a mail survey and élite interviews with senior civil servants, the paper advances a three-fold argument. First, bureaucracies lead the way in the development of specialized training programmes. Second, senior officials want to prepare themselves for items of importance in the near-term future (for example the European Union), as well as to cover as many remote possibilities as they can (for example with management training) in the hope they will do better in any post, even though they cannot now predict what those posts will require of them. Third, although some types of executive development programmes turn out to work well, numerous others do not. The latter, however, are not always a waste of money because they are sometimes used as places to temporarily 'store' people or to 'get rid of people' that an individual agency does not want to have around anymore.