Episode 101 – Coffee N5 – What Makes High Achievers So Successful? With Ruth Gotian

On this episode of Coffee N° 5, Lara sits down with Ruth Gotian, the Chief Learning Officer of Weill Cornell Medicine. Ruth is an author, educator, and Forbes 50 Over 50 semi-finalist who deeply understands and specializes in what factors make people successful. She shares with Lara her insights about the nature of success, the importance of pursuing your passion, and why there’s enough room for everyone who is willing to work to be successful.

What you’ll learn: 

  • Ruth explains the four elements of success and how YOU can apply them to your own life, career, and goals
  • The ONE habit Mark Cuban, Warren Buffett, and other billionaires have in common (Hint: You should start doing this right now!)
  • Why other people’s success doesn’t take away from yours and how to reframe your thinking to celebrate the victories of others

Dr. Ruth Gotian is the Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Professor of Education in Anesthesiology and former founding Assistant Dean of Mentoring and Executive Director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine. She has been hailed by the journal Nature and Columbia University as an expert in mentorship and leadership development. In 2021, she was selected as one of 30 people worldwide to be named to the Thinkers50 Radar List, dubbed the Oscars of management thinking, and recently won the Thinkers50 Distinguished Achievement Radar Award, ranking her the #1 emerging management thinker in the world to bridge theory and practice. She is also a semi-finalist for the Forbes 50 Over 50 list. In addition to publishing in academic journals, she is a contributor to Forbes and Psychology Today, where she writes about optimizing success. Her research is about the mindset and skill set of peak performers, including Nobel laureates, astronauts, and Olympic champions, which she writes about in her book, The Success Factor.

For more information on The Success Factor, don’t forget to follow Ruth on LinkedIn and visit her website.

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Lara Schmoisman  0:01  

Hi, you guys, welcome back to coffee number five. And today I’m here sipping my coffee. And thinking a little bit about it’s about to be summer break here in Los Angeles and my kids are gonna go into summer break as well or summer school in their case, they take advantage of take some classes. And I will think in I mean, it’s the end of the school year, and there’s a lot of pressure, a lot of pressure on education, there is a lot of pressure in teenagers in high school just to get to college and to be successful. And successful means good grades means getting into good colleges, what is been successful, what’s the definition of success? What make you successful, making money making a good at where you are being honest, what is that? So today, I embedded someone who’s an expert in the success factor. So welcome, Ruth, Ruth Gotian, not only I mean, her has, she has an amazing career that I will ask her to summarize for us. But also she she has a wrote a book, the success factor. So welcome to coffee, number five. Thank you. And as a coffee addict, I am excited to be here. Coffee is a vitamin. Absolutely. And I always joke that was why the reason of coffee number five that I need my to be on my fifth coffee at the end of the day, it has to be having those five minutes to relax also, and to be able to chat with someone. So you’re here with my coffee number five, and let’s chat. So what makes a person successful. 


Ruth Gotian  3:32  

So it’s interesting is actually four elements of success. And I’ve actually done a ton of research on this, I literally got my doctorate studying success. And I have interviewed extreme high achievers to figure out what has made them so successful. So I’ve interviewed Nobel Prize winners and astronauts and Olympic champions and NBA champions and NFL Hall of Famers and CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, figuring if I could backtrack that, and create a blueprint, we can really improve everyone’s success. And I found out that whether you’re an astronaut, or an Olympic champion, there are four mindsets that you have. And are these are not habits, we cannot copy other people’s habits because we’re different people. So sad, because a lot of people want to copy other people’s strategy to be successful doesn’t work. Because you hear people they say, oh, high achievers wake up at 5am, maybe. But if you’re a night owl, and you do your best work at night, you’re not going to wake up at 5am If you didn’t go to bed till 3am. But there is something with the mindset that we can definitely emulate. And I found out that all these high achievers, here are the four mindsets, they found what they are absolutely passionate about what they love doing more than anything else, why they were put on this earth. It’s what we call intrinsic motivation. They would do it for free if they could, it’s not about the awards, the rewards the Olympic medal, the Nobel Prize, because if it was they would have quit right after they got it. Because that’s when other people are judging you. When other people are judging. Everyone has that or all of them, all of them. That’s whyonly the successful people have the successful people found their intrinsic motivation. The rest of us can find it as well. And I talk about that in the book. It’s not just about what the elements are, but also how to achieve them in your own life. So the first one is to find your intrinsic motivation.


Ready for the second one? Yes. The second one is a


it’s your work ethic, your perseverance, your resilience, your grit, whatever sexy term you want to use. Really what it means is how you approach challenges. Now some of us approach challenges, it gets too hard and we quit.


But not the high achievers. Every failure. Every rejection, every challenge is considered data. What can I learn from this? They know that they will overcome a challenge. They don’t question that they have the confidence. Instead they focus on what is the strategy to succeed on this project that I have not thought of yet. They always add that word yet. And they always work to overcome that challenge. And they do it by controlling what they can control. Very important to actually take control and take the reins. That’s why some people during the pandemic


were watching Netflix for hours and hours and hours while other people were


extremely productive. They’re like we’ve got this pandemic. But the pandemic doesn’t have me. And that’s why they were so, so successful, and they produce so much. That’s the second one. The third one is that strong foundation, which you are constantly reinforcing. So high achievers understand that what worked for them early in their career works for them later in their career, as well. And the reason that they do that is because it’s always getting back to the basics doesn’t matter how successful they are. They never rest on their laurels. Voice always. And he works in marketing and works in absolutely everything you need to go even though like, for example, you guys, we always talk about marketing, we always talk about digital, it doesn’t matter. Nothing that I do, will I need to go back to the communication. So that basic of our communications. That’s right, that’s absolutely right. And and in the book, the success factor, you will hear how getting back to that foundation helped people like Bonnie Blair, a five time Olympic medalist, win the Olympic gold against the then East Germans. In long track speed skating, you will hear stories like that, always about getting back to the basics and perfecting the technique. And last but certainly not least, you heard of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett and Mark Cuban.


They are notorious for reading three to eight hours a day. It’s not reading that made them billionaires, what made them billionaires was opening their minds up to new knowledge saying, I don’t know what I don’t know.


But I’m going to figure it out. And I’m going to ask and I’m going to read now they do it by reading, that’s a they open their mind up to new knowledge. And that works beautifully for them.


But other people might find other ways to consume new knowledge. So you could read books, you could read articles, you can listen to podcasts, such as this one, hopefully people are learning great things, webinars, LinkedIn learning, YouTube, there’s so many different ways that you can learn new things. Now part of that is also talking to people. And all of the high achievers surrounded themselves with not one but a team of mentors, people who believed in them more than they believed in themselves. And if you can do that, those are the four elements of success. I let me ask you a question because you are defining them as a high achievers.


Lara Schmoisman  7:34  

High achievers mean,


aren’t necessarily because this is something comes out as a mother is always is your


intelligence, high achieving, how are they’re connected? So


Ruth Gotian  7:52  

one thing about success is that it’s a moving definition, it’s like perfection, you’re never really going to achieve it right. But here’s the definition I used. The people who I feel have achieved this incredible success are people who created a paradigm shift in the way we do things, think about things process, things were fundamentally different because of what they did. That’s one, as they were rising through the ranks, they were pulling other people up with them, because they understood that a spotlight on someone else does not detract from the light on them. And last but not least, when they reach that pinnacle of their career, they actually mentored the next generation. And they did that either through one on one or through large groups. So there’s a lot of giving back, as you’re rising up. And I think all those three parts is making the change in the way we do things and bringing other people up with you. And mentoring the next generation. All of those are part of the dish definition of success. I truly believe in giving back and mentorship. That is it’s almost a lost art, mentorship. And what brings me back to something that I always mentioned in this podcast because I’m I’m concerned about this. I’m truly concerned that lately we try to find mentorship in these all online programs, free webinars.


Lara Schmoisman  9:30  

There are so many places now that I don’t know if that’s an everyone is a coach right now. There’s so many coaches, I guess that there are more coaches that people that they want to do the work lately. And so how do you find a mentor? How do you how do you find a path for success? Yeah, so the the part of how to find a mentor I talk about that a lot.


Ruth Gotian  10:00  

In the book, because I don’t believe in these matches that people have, because I think they’re completely random. It’s like saying, Oh, you’re both from LA, therefore, you should be a mentor, mentee match? Well, you and I both know that not everyone who’s from LA is the same. So putting them together is just like saying, anybody who likes the color purple is going to be a good match doesn’t make any sense. Instead, I advocate for organic matches organic development, organic relationship building. Because really, mentoring is about a relationship. People like to work with people who they know, like and trust. So how can you find and develop relationships where people can know like and trust you? And you can know like, and trust them? So what are the different ways that you can learn something new, because you want to learn in this relationship, right, and you also want to teach it’s bi directional. So you want to put yourself in a place where there are interesting people, maybe that’s in person in a conference, but maybe it’s you’re attending a webinar, you’re listening to a great speaker, you’re listening to a great moderator, maybe there was somebody in the audience who asked great questions, were made great comments, were had these great observations. Those are the people that you would want to connect with. You want to start connecting with these people, you want to start engaging with these people. Don’t ever ask somebody to be your mentor. The second you ask them to be your mentor, you’re asking them to take on another obligation. Nobody has time for that. Instead, ask them for their perspective, make it for a finite period of time, Laura, I am working on something with digital communication. I know you have expertise on that. I’m having a challenge in this one area. I was wondering if I could stop by and talk to you for 1015 minutes to get your thoughts on how to overcome this one challenge I’m facing. And I will feel honor and I will give you that time. And I will appreciate that you’ve been really for and asking me about that. Right? Yeah. And I made it time bound. And it’s very specific. I didn’t say Lara helped me with my career. But where would I start? Where would I start with that? Right. But if it’s something very specific, and now we start working together, and now you start giving me challenges I should consider and I always start to under promise and over deliver. That is how you get ahead. That is how you find great mentorship. And before long, that mentor is going to turn into a sponsor, they’re going to start nominating you for opportunities for promotions for awards for recognition. Because you have shown that you’re a diamond in the rough and under this person’s mentorship, you are shining bright, but you have to get people to know like and trust you. And you need to know like and trust them. It’s a relationship. It’s a relationship. But it’s a two way street is not always about you picking other people’s mine. Always. It’s always a two way street. And every high achiever will tell you that. And you need to make sure that you deliver the work always, always on time is late. I know always on. I mean, I I always try to be a mentor to my team. And I always say questions. They never bother me ask me questions. What bothers me? Is someone not making those?


Lara Schmoisman  13:34  

Those questions? That’s right, because if information is not power, this is something that we have touch base on many, many times, because having phone number of a person is not giving you any power if you don’t have that connection to the person to ask a question. That’s right. And you’re bringing up a great point. So people always asked me, how did you get in touch with Nobel Prize winners and astronauts and Olympic champions and NBA champions. So every one from Dr. Tony Fauci to Steve Kerr, the the coach of the Golden State Warriors. They’re all in the book. And I had interviews with all of them. And everyone’s asking, well, how? Well this was all through my network. And people, we’re not just going to introduce me to people until they know like, and trust me that I am going to honor this relationship, be respectful and not use it in any negative way. And only then, would they actually make the referral and connect me with that person. So 90 95% of the people who I connected with and who I interviewed for the book, and there’s over hundreds of hours of interviews, were through connections. And that’s incredible. I actually post a post in my social and normally don’t do these things, but is I found that there is really


Ruth Gotian  15:01  

It’s interesting when you put a when you don’t have as many people putting a like, congratulations, then when you put something back many a challenge. That’s how much and this is unfortunate, I think you need to celebrate the wins of other people. And that because people can become your mentors, your contacts, and you never know you always should be celebrating other people’s achievements. Well, I think a lot of people, this really goes back to the definition of success. They have a hard time with other people achieving success because they feel it takes the light away from them. But the true high achievers understand and the astronauts I’ve interviewed many astronauts and they all told me the world is big enough for all of us to shine bright.


Right, so a light on you. And your achievement does not detract from my light and my achievement. It makes the pie bigger, you’re not taking a piece of my pie. We’re making the pie bigger. 


Lara Schmoisman  16:19  

It’s the same thing that we were just talking before. It’s having it’s like love you for loving more person. You don’t stop loving someone else. Yeah. It just gives you more opportunities. My father always will say, I want my friends to the world. I really want them to the world. Because if they the world means that I will do well too, because I’m surrounded with them and friends help each other through friends.


Ruth Gotian  16:49  

That’s so true. Look, I’m part of the Marshall Goldsmith, 100 coaches, community and I’m part of the thinker’s 50 community. Now, technically, we’re all competitors. The reality is, we are collaborators, we are friends, and we are each other’s biggest supporters.


And if I can’t do something, I always go to that pool to see if somebody can take my place. If I’m not the right person for a talk or a collaboration, I always look to that pool, the people who are technically on paper, my competitors, but really, nobody, I would trust more.


Nobody. And that’s why we always go back. And those are the groups you want to be a part of. Exactly. And that’s what exactly what we were saying also before is they are more room for you. If you you create the space.


Lara Schmoisman  17:33  

And it comes right back to you boomerangs right back as well. Absolutely, absolutely. And let’s put it in marketing terms, like I’ll always say, and I see a lot of people, a lot of people failing here because they tried to copy other people’s strategy doesn’t work doesn’t work. It’s your unique, your unique person, like your competitors, who I have a lot of clients that are doctors and even do the same thing. I say yeah, but I mean, when I go either choose a doctor, I mean, probably they all have their wonderful and they all have the same skills. But the difference is himself the personality how you connect with them. 


Ruth Gotian  18:21  

That’s right. And you know, it’s interesting, you you bring that up, because everyone asked me when I wrote the success factor. For each of the four elements of success, I told you that I created a lot of resources and techniques and and tips that you can implement immediately. But for each one, I created what’s called a buffet of options. Why? Because what works for you is not going to work for me. We’re different people. And what works for me today may not work for me the next time I have a transition in my life, a new partner, another child, a move a pandemic, right. So we need to have something that we can go back to and say, Well, I’ve tried this and it worked in the past, but maybe it’s time to try something new. Oh, look here in the book. There’s plenty of things I can choose from. I can try this. If this doesn’t work. I can try that. Oh, it didn’t work last time, but maybe it’ll work now that I have a transition. Transitions are important times. Yeah. 


Unknown Speaker  19:18  


Lara Schmoisman  19:25  

Yeah. Do you feel Did you find any kind of connection high achievers between people that are high achievers, or successful at school? Because I have huge issues. I was a I’m a super high achiever person. I mean, I know I don’t like nose and I go and I keep okay that doesn’t work. I go the other side and I will keep going and I think my mother because I inherited that from her. But they my question also is can you inherited that or is something that you learn and but also is I was a terrible student. I didn’t care about school but then when I found my passions was boom


Ruth Gotian  20:00  

Have you just answered your own question, didn’t you? I did. But they said he caught reelection. Did you learn anything I looked at some of the some of the people who I interviewed were terrible in school. Terrible. And some were the top students wasn’t about that. Once you find your passion, as you said it the first element of success, nothing is going to stop you nothing. I even share the story in the in the book in the success factor, Dr. Peggy Whitson, she’s a biochemist. She worked at NASA for years. And she applied to be an astronaut, and was rejected. And applied again, was rejected, and applied again, and was rejected. And this went on for 10 years, 10 years, but she wants to be an astronaut. And she kept working at NASA and learning and making connections and networking and collaborating. Ultimately, she was accepted as an astronaut. And it’s a good thing, because she later on became the first female commander of the International Space Station. Overall, she’s held twice, she spent more days in space than any American astronaut of any gender. And ultimately, she became NASA’s chief astronaut in charge of all the astronauts. So this is what happens when people when they don’t get when they are rejected when they are turned down. When they have failure. They use that as data. Nothing’s going to stop them. Nothing. That’s another failure is data, its data to an opportunity for enhancement. In fact, I also share the story of Dr. Bob Lefkowitz, the Nobel Prize winner, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2012. He said when he was working during the Vietnam War at the National Institutes of Health, nothing worked. He thought he was quitting science. Going back to being a cardiologist, he said nothing worked. rejection, rejection, rejection, rejection, he now teaches a course at Duke where he works about overcoming rejection, overcoming failures, he’s very transparent about it. All of them faced it one way or another. We all too were human. They’re not different than us. It’s not how, how many times a fall or how you fall, it’s about how you get out.


Lara Schmoisman  22:19  

Over and over and over again. I will add, how graciously you get up. That’s true. You just can get up and pretend that nothing happened. I keep going. So my last question for you. So can we give these or can we teach this to our kids? Can we teach them to be high achievers or something that generically genetically we give them? Or? It’s something that some people have it? 


Ruth Gotian  22:45  

 Can you imagine the dinner conversations at the Gotian table? My kids are always saying mom enough with the professional development. But no one’s going to thank me, right? I want to I want to be a fly on the wall. But there’s always little things that I try and teach because we don’t know what we don’t know. We just we don’t. Right. And who else has the opportunity to interview astronauts and Nobel Prize winners and Olympic champions and learn from them? Well, if I’m going to learn from them not keeping this information to myself, the whole point is to leave this earth better than I found it. And that’s one of the things that Dr. Fauci taught me, he said, you have to do something important. Not just interesting. I love about that. It’s about the legacy. And I’m so glad you brought it up. Because it’s something that I work every day with my team, with my my kids, it says about what we do, and not only for us, for others, but for this world.


And I see a lot of people failing, because they’re only thinking about themselves. No. And that’s why you have to do something important, not just interesting. 


Lara Schmoisman  24:00  

Yeah, absolutely. So in your brief notes, of course, everyone needs to read the look, they will please people, he wants to be successful. You need to read this book, you want to learn what are the factors that make you successful, but Cliff Notes, if you want to motivate someone to start and say, I can do this, what is the motivation that they need to go now I’m gonna pick it pick up your book. 


Ruth Gotian  25:00  

So the book is called the success factor. And it really gives you tools that you can implement immediately. People are sending me pictures from all over the world with the book written in the margins and tabbed out and I love that because that means the book is working for them, which is fantastic. I absolutely love that. While you’re waiting for the book to come in, if you want to figure out what is your intrinsic motivation, what it is that you are truly passionate about, which is different from what you’re good at. You can just go head over to my website and take a passion audit. We She’s totally free. So go to Ruthgotian.com/passionaudit, and you could do your own three column assessment and you’ll you’ll see a big difference. I kind of do that right now or hanging up and I get addicted to the thing so now I need to know thank you so much Ruth for sharing all this information with us. I am a geek when is about these things because I’m I always feel like I’m not doing enough that more that I can be learning more. They don’t have enough hours in the day. And so thank you for letting me get out here. Thanks for letting me kick out


Lara Schmoisman  25:41  

to you guys. Thank you so much for having one more time coffee with me and I will see you next week.



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