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It gets lonely at the top.

If you needed advice on a career or business decision, asking another industry expert seems like the obvious choice, right? But what if through the years of building your career and rising the ranks, you didn’t feel comfortable, or didn’t have anyone, to ask? Executive isolation is exactly what it sounds like, it leaves an executive isolated from peer networks, often caused by the competitive nature of their role.

This is a common reality for many executives and leaders who have found themselves in the position of feeling isolated, or completely disconnected, from their networks. Competitive isolation is used to describe those executives who have narrowed their peer support networks to such a level that it is having a negative impact on their work decisions and lifestyle choices.

Dr Toby Ford, CEO and Ford Health founder who has worked with thousands of top tier executives over a 20-plus year career in corporate health and wellbeing, says executives who display this executive isolation behaviour are not just putting their careers, but also their health, at risk. It is well established that peer group networks are vital for career and life success, however we are observing an increasing number of high performing executives with limited or no, trust-based relationships.

Executives with limited peer networks which the individual can trust to share information with, and seek council from, creates this ‘competitive isolation’ behaviour, which can have a significant impact around competent decision making.

Our team has learned that individuals develop these patterns of competitive isolation behaviour through their younger years of career development.

“Executives who have failed to develop their confidant network, and are instead relying
on more acquaintance-based relationships to get things done, is often a direct result of
learned behaviours around trust.”

Many of us learn early on that it is safer not to tell people what’s going on in our head for fear it could be used against us; that others would want to hinder rather than help our progress in achievement such as career progression. Underpinning this isolation behaviour is usually a strong sense of self-reliance. Top tier executives with isolationist behaviours will have usually demonstrated years of being self-reliant. Self-reliance, whilst a great driver for success, is double edged and can mean we not only don’t ask for help, but that we believe it’s not necessary to ask for help or that we can’t recognise the value in asking for help.

“While self-reliance is essential to good performance and leadership success in our early years, the resulting development of competitive isolation can be particularly destructive for more senior executives.”

Executive isolation leaves the individual executive with no one to brain storm or debrief with, which just isn’t sustainable. High performing individuals understand the value of meaningful peer networks and discussions, which is why our medical teams strongly encourage clients to actively cultivate their peer network.

Building your peer network should span much further than the office. For example, team sports are a brilliant way to gain both physical and mental health benefits. Engaging in the right sport team can give the competitively isolated instant access to advice, support, and a sense of camaraderie outside of the office, as well as the health benefits of regular exercise.

The Ford Health team have a four point plan for those executives seeking to address competitive isolation by participating in team sport:

  1. Understand Your Current Health Status – Sounds obvious but everyone should a comprehensive health check before embarking on any level of activity.
  2. Set Fitness Goals – increase your fitness to build enjoyment of the sport and build your confidence.
  3. Introduce Competition – against you, the clock, or others. Competition is motivating as it keeps you engaged and building your drive for improvement to achieve your goals.
  4. Meditative Release – Once you reach a certain level of sporting focus and capability, the endorphins kick in, the brain empties out, and we become relaxed.

When our medical teams identify and address the behaviours of executive isolation,  we work with the client to map out a plan to improve peer networks by matching them to a sport that suits them.


If you are feeling isolated in your role and want to learn how to build your peer networks and connections for personal and business success, get in contact with us today.