The Success Factor

Episode Summary

Ruth Gotian has devoted her life and career to finding out what makes Nobel laureates, astronauts, CEOs, and Olympic champions tick. Now she’s sharing her knowledge with the world— and, fortunately for us, with the Perspectives from the Top audience.

Episode Notes

What makes astronauts and athletes so successful— and how you can unlock that same power?


That clearly was not my calling. Clearly, I was not passionate about it. And that was really my first inkling that you can be good at something and not enjoy it. And that’s okay.

–Ruth Gotian


Ruth Gotian is the Chief Learning Officer, Assistant Professor of Education in anesthesiology, and former Executive Director of the mentoring academy at Weill Cornell Medicine. After starting her career in university residency management at NY State and Cornell, she took a brief foray into international banking before moving into academic medical administration. She’s led the transformation of learning and development for thousands of students during her 26 years at Weill Cornell. During this period, Ruth earned her Ph.D. in Education from Columbia. She now studies what makes people successful high-performers so she can help others do the same.

Ruth’s book, The Success Factor, covers this very topic— as do her writings in popular journals such as Nature, Scientific American, Psychology Today, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review. She’s recognized on the Thinkers50 Radar List, arguably the most prestigious honor for management thinkers.


[3:05] – “Do Something Important, Not Just Interesting”

Transformative words from a mentor

After decades of witnessing a lack of progress on pervasive problems, a mentor told Ruth: “Do something important, not just interesting.” This inspired Ruth to begin pursuing the qualitative idea of what drives great achievers to achieve their greatest.

[13:41] – Embracing Collaboration

From finance to academia

Ruth speaks fondly of the collaborative mindset that defines academia. There’s less of a dog-eat-dog mentally than there is in other industries. Instead, many people recognize that the more we work together, the more our efforts will be duplicated and expanded upon in creative ways, leading to greater progress for ourselves and others.

[28:08] – Protective of Your Passions

Embracing your desire to do work you care about

Ruth has often approached highly respected scientists and researchers, including Nobel Prize winners, about taking on dean roles. The most common response? “No, thank you. I’m happy in the lab.” It can be easy to fall into the trap of accepting every ‘promotion’ or step up that comes along. But if it’s a step away from what you love, then is it really a step up?

[38:10] – The Four Traits of High Achievers

From Olympians to astronauts

In Ruth’s research, and her book The Success Factor, she’s found that nearly all high achievers have four main traits: they identify their passions, they strategize on how to achieve them, they build and reinforce a strong foundation, and they’re constantly learning— even through informal means. Now the question is: How can you tap into those traits within yourself, starting today?

[50:29] – The Importance of Mentorship

Finding the right ones with the right mindset

As powerful as a great mentor can be, a poor one can be equally damaging. Find mentors you gel with, with whom you can form strong relationships. Who will be willing to put in the time? These relationships can’t be forced, only built organically.


Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck
Chris Roebuck is a speaker, advisor and executive coach who has a unique approach that helps leaders, teams, and organisations reach their full potential and be successful in just three steps. This is proven to add investor value, deliver better customer service, build the brand externally, develop innovation and entrepreneurial thinking, optimise risk and boost the bottom line by 10% + at no cost. Chris unique experience as a leader in the military, business, government and as a Hon Visiting Professor of Transformational Leadership has enabled him to develop this innovative, entrepreneurial and highly effective new approach for leaders and organisations to achieve success: I CARE Leadership. It’s simply about you being the leader people always give their best for empowered by authentic and inspirational servant leadership. Chris shows how building on leaders current knowledge via simple, practical day to day actions can immediately deliver real improvements at all levels; individual, team, and organisation. One organisation who implemented it increased the number of staff happy to recommend it as “a great place to work” to friends or family in 2 years from 40% to 82%, an exceptional change, and increased revenue by 40%. When Global Head of Leadership at UBS, 70,000 staff & 100 countries, his team helped the bank transform organisational performance to increase profitability by 235%, market capitalisation by 50% and win awards. This is now a Harvard Case Study. Chris experience spans many sectors and geographies; from having held senior roles in UBS, HSBC, KPMG & London Underground to advising legal firms and construction, from the UK National Health Service of 1.4m staff and UK Government to the Red Cross in Myanmar, from Investment banks in London to Middle East Telecoms, from the Chinese Space Programme to retail in USA and many more. Chris has been quoted as a business leadership expert globally in the Harvard Business Review China, FT, Wall Street Journal, Le Monde, New York Times, Business Week, Time Magazine, Washington Post, Times of India, Straits & Gulf Times and many other titles. He has been interviewed on TV over 350 on leadership and business issues on BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, and other channels and his books have been translated into 11 languages. Chris has been recognised as one of the Most Influential HR Thinkers regularly since 2011 by the HR profession.

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