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How Those High Achievers Do It, With Ruth Gotian

What is a high achiever’s secret to success? In this episode, Ruth Gotian, the Chief Learning Officer at Weill Cornell Medicine, identifies the four threads of success that high achievers have to succeed. She also touches on The Success Factor: Developing the Mindset and Skillset for Peak Business Performance. She explains how the Passion Audit can help you to reduce burnout. Develop the mindset and skillset high achievers have to reach their peak business performance. Join Ruth Gotian now!

Check out the full series of “Career Sessions, Career Lessons” podcasts here or visit A full written transcript of this episode is also available at

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How Those High Achievers Do It, With Ruth Gotian

Author of The Success Factor: Developing the Mindset and Skillset for Peak Business Performance

My guest is Dr. Ruth Gotian. Ruth is the Chief Learning Officer and Associate Professor of Education and Anesthesiology, former Assistant Dean of Mentoring, and Executive Director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine. She publishes on topics such as networking, mentoring, leadership development, and optimizing success. She has written for Nature, Scientific American, Academic Medicine, Psychology Today, Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review.

Ruth is the author of The Success Factor: Developing the Mindset and Skills for Peak Performance, and she hosts a podcast where she gathers high achievers to talk about their journey to success. She herself is a high achiever, having won the Thinkers 50 Distinguished Achievement Radar Award, ranking her the number one emerging management thinker in the world. She received her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Business Management from the University of Stony Brook in New York and her doctorate at Teachers College Columbia University. Ruth, welcome. Thanks for joining me.

Thanks for having me.

Let’s spend some time talking about what you do. What is your current work at Weill Cornell Medicine?

I have the best job in the world because my job is to make people successful. I am a Chief Learning Officer. I help people be the best versions of themselves. I coach all of our faculty who want the coaching. I’m also on the faculty where I study extreme high achievers. I study Nobel Prize winners, astronauts, Olympians, and NBA champions to figure out what has made them successful and how the rest of us, mere mortals, can achieve greater success.

I know you’ve certainly done some interesting interviews. Those come out in the book. You’ve been at Cornell for a long time time, albeit in a variety of roles. What’s kept you there for so long?

I have been here for several years. I tell people I started when I was five. It’s my second job after grad school. When you work with bright people, you want to become a better version of yourself. I’m always learning something new every day. I’m not helping other people become successful. I’m learning every day in the process. My brain is always active. It’s been great.

It’s a far cry from what you started. You started in banking.

My first two degrees are in business. I worked in finance and international banking. That’s when I realized you could be good at something and not enjoy it. Imagine you get two degrees and you start working. When you got your degree, you’re like, “I don’t want to do this anymore.” I figured out what I wanted to do and realized it changed over time. I went back to school at the age of 43 to get my doctorate. That was one of the best decisions I ever made.

I hear from people who go back later in life to get their doctorate later than their mid-twenties. It is a trade-off in many ways because they’re typically raising families at the time. They’re committed to it. When they come out, they’re glad they did. It sounds like that’s the case with you.

I have a family. I was working full-time at Elder Care for my parents. I was going to classes after all of that. I’m doing my dissertation and research for it while taking classes. I had perfected time management. This time was for me. I knew that I was enjoying it because when you get that syllabus. They have the required reading, and there’s also recommended reading. I’m doing the required and the recommended because I loved it that much. I wanted to learn and absorb everything I could. That’s how I knew I was hooked.

I heard you deliver a talk about mentoring at the Thinkers 50 Conference, which precipitated us doing this. I know you’re passionate about mentoring. What inspired you to become passionate about mentoring?

I have had some amazing and horrific mentors in the past. I have started studying it and taking a deep dive to see what it is about it. I have learned that those who are mentored earn and outperform those who are not. They have lower burnout. They have greater loyalty to their organization. It’s a great retention tool. There’s nothing bad about it. I took a deep dive.

One of the things that I realized when studying these high achievers in the book is that the success factor is that all the high achievers, from the astronauts to the Nobel Prize winners to Olympic champions, surrounded themselves, not with one, but with a team of mentors. I said, “I have to look into more of this because they’re all doing it. These are people at the top of their game. I’d been studying the art and science of mentorship for years. It’s the topic of my next book, The Financial Times Guide to Mentoring.Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Ruth Gotian | High Achievers

You mentioned having good mentors and bad mentors. Was there a particular mentoring experience that impacted you?

One of my mentors is Dr. Birch Shapiro. I only told five people. I was going back because there was one school I wanted to go to. It was competitive. I was 43 years old. I knew my chances were slim of the five three who wrote my letters of recommendation. He was one of them. When I told him I wanted to go back to school and that this was what I wanted to study, he said six words that changed my life. He said, “Do something important, not interesting.”

That changed everything because I went from doing a nice-to-institutional study to a groundbreaking international study, which the book The Success Factor led to all the articles, grants, and giving a keynote at Thinkers 50. Six words can change your life. If you think carefully about what he said, he never told me what to do. He never stopped me from doing anything. He told me to dream bigger. That’s the difference.

You took that to heart.

I did. It changed all my research and made it a global study.

Let’s talk a bit about the book The Success Factor. As you’ve mentioned, you studied all sorts of high achievers, Olympians, astronauts, and many others. You did research for the book. Was there anything surprising to you in terms of the outcomes of the study?

The Success Factor

It was fascinating to me because when I distilled all the information, I realized that it’s not about habits. We’ve been thinking about success all wrong. We were told to wake up at 5:00 AM, read for eight hours a day, and make your bed before you do anything else. Those are habits. We cannot copy other people’s habits because we have different lives. If I’m working full time, have a long commute, and have a family, I can’t read for eight hours a day. It’s not happening.

What we can do is emulate their mindset and customize it to our own life, which is what every single one of those high achievers did. Once I realized it’s not about habits but about mindsets, all of them, even though they were in disparate fields, had the same four mindsets that grounded and guided them. That’s when I realized that success can be learned. I have a bunch of degrees. I have never had a class on how to succeed.

The Success Factor is that blueprint. I’ve reversed-engineered the process that all these high achievers did. I didn’t talk about what it was. I shared how to do it not in one way, but there’s a buffet of options for all of the elements of success. What works for you is not going to work for me because we’re different. What works for me now may not work for me six months or a year from now when I have a new house or job because our lives and interests change over time. It’s important to be able to hold different things out of that buffet of options.

Let’s talk a bit about those four threads that you talked about. Can you summarize them for us?

Intrinsic Motivation

The first element of success is intrinsic motivation. There’s something in adult learning where we differentiate between intrinsic and extrinsic. Extrinsic motivation means you are doing it for that trophy, diploma, certificate, bonus, or promotion. You’re doing it when other people judge you. I hate to break it to you, but that is how you will fail out or burn out because you are never going to impress people all the time.

When you’re doing it for yourself, fire in your belly, passion that you have, and the reason you wake up in the morning, and you can’t quiet your mind at night, no one can take that away from you. That’s called intrinsic motivation. All of these high achievers have tapped into their intrinsic motivation. What’s interesting is when I ask them, “How do you know when it’s time to stop?” They say, “I don’t have the passion for it anymore.” That’s why there’s no guilt and no shame when they decide to step away. They said, “I don’t love it the way I used to.”

All high achievers tap into their intrinsic motivation. Click To Tweet

A professional athlete or an Olympian works hard day in and day out for years. At some point, you hit this point where you’re like, “I’ve achieved enough. I’m ready to hang it up. I’ll go onto something else.”

I do a lot of executive coaching for elite athletes. The reason I love working with them so much is the same passion that they brought into that training. The same fighting spirit and work ethic are a common thread in everything they do. They bring that into whatever their new career is after retirement from athletics. They’re young when they retire from athletics. That’s why they’re able to succeed in other things. They’ve got that work ethic and intrinsic motivation. Those four elements of success translate into their new field.

The four elements of success translate into the high achievers' new field. Click To Tweet

Most of us aren’t Olympic athletes, professional athletes, CEOs, or astronauts. What’s hard sometimes, even when you have that intrinsic motivation, is to not let it get drowned out by extrinsic factors. When people are telling you you’re not doing a good enough job or you’re not getting maybe an explicit positive feedback loop working for you, self-doubt comes in there. I would imagine that they all face that but learn how to overcome it.

They learn how to tune it out. Can you imagine going to the Olympic arena, training, or playing at the Super Bowl? You have to learn how to drown out the noise. If they were only doing it for the medal, they would’ve quit after they got it. I’ve spoken to so many Nobel Prize winners. I don’t know if a single one stopped doing science because they won the Nobel Prize. If anything, they double down to do more and do higher-risk projects. It’s never about the medal. Who doesn’t want to get those accolades for the work that they do? That’s not why you do it.

How does a mere mortal develop and foster that intrinsic motivation?

There are techniques you can use to figure out where that intrinsic motivation lies, realizing that it changes over time and usually changes when you have a transition in your life. A new job, a new child, a new house, a pandemic, any of those things cause us to change our passions. That’s why many people quit their jobs. When the pandemic started, it was a shift.

If any of your readers want to take a deep dive into how to figure out where their true passions lie, I talk about this quite a bit in the book The Success Factor. There is an exercise that I take you through. It’s called a passion audit. A passion audit differentiates between what you’re good at and what you’re not good at, what you enjoy doing and what you don’t enjoy doing, even if you’re good at it, and what you would do for free if you could.

There’s a way to synthesize that to see what you’re interested in and figure out how you can infuse part of that into your job. Research has shown that we only need to spend 20% of our time doing what we love at work to reduce burnout significantly. If your readers want to try out that passion audit, it’s a simple three-column exercise, and they could download it for free from my website at

That’s the first element. There are three more.

Grit And Perseverance

The second one is you’ve heard of grit, perseverance, and work ethic. Yeah. That’s all true. You have to have a good work ethic. If you have all the talent in the world, but you’re sitting and binging Netflix all day, you’re not going to be successful. It is how you approach challenges. I’ll give you an example. One of the people who I interviewed was Dr. Peggy Whitson. She is a biochemist. She had been working as a biochemist at NASA. She was also a pilot, and she wanted to be an astronaut. She applied and was rejected. She applied again and was rejected. This went on for ten years.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I would apply for the same job for ten full years. She said, “No, this is what I want to do. I’m going in.” I said, “What changes every time you apply?” She said, “I knew I was going to be an astronaut. The question was not if. The question was how. What is the strategy? I have not thought of it yet. What was the gap that they were seeing that I hadn’t filled? That was the approach she took.

It’s a good thing she didn’t give up because she went on to become an astronaut. She became the first female commander of the International Space Station, a role she held twice. She went on to spend more days in space than any American astronaut of any gender. This astronaut, whose application was rejected for ten years, went on to become NASA’s chief astronaut.

That second element is not about grit, resilience, and work ethic. It’s how you approach challenges. It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of how. Control what you can control. You are in the driver’s seat and start thinking about, “What is the strategy I haven’t thought of yet?” When you start approaching it that way, you will look at problems differently.

Approach challenges with what you can control. Click To Tweet

You’ll see the Olympians when the 2020 Olympics were postponed because of COVID. Most of them, even though the gyms were closed and they couldn’t meet up with their coaches, were still training in the parks and whatever way they could. Almost none of them dropped out. They continued and competed in 2021.

I don’t know if you watch the Apple TV show For All Mankind, but they modeled some characters after her. There was a definite paying of homage to her story.

Don’t Rest On Your Laurel

Most of the astronauts who I interviewed did not get in on their first try. Most had to reapply. Part of the things that you have to understand when you are trying to become more successful is no matter what you do. You cannot rest on your laurels. What you did early in your career, you have to do later in your career.

Kobe Bryant was known for being at the gym at four 5:00 AM and doing his warmups and layups. What he was doing was no different than what you’d see in any junior high gym. He might have had better sneakers and more expensive coaches, but the warmup was the same. He never said, “I’m an NBA champion. I don’t need to practice my layups.” He never once said that. He would practice over and over again. You want to have that strong foundation and constantly reinforce it.

What made you good early on is what’s going to make you good later. I interviewed Neal Katyal, who has argued over 50 cases before. The Supreme Court used the same strategies for case 50 as he did for case one to prepare. If it’s good for lawyers before the highest court in the land and NBA champions, the rest of us need to start doing that.

That’s not necessarily my strength. I tend to get bored doing the same thing. I admire these athletes who will get up, get in the pool, go to the track, and go to the gym. For years, they do the same thing day in and day out to hone their craft. It’s amazing.

Leveraging Your Peak Performance

The fourth one is the most fascinating because do you remember what I said earlier about leaders having to read eight hours a day? That’s how you’re going to become successful. You have to wake up at 5:00 AM. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about leveraging your peak performance hours and opening your mind up to new knowledge.

While Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Mark Cuban could read for 3 to 8 hours a day, that’s not what made them successful. It’s how they integrated all the information they took in and started connecting dots that other people didn’t yet see. While they do it by reading, you can watch YouTube and listen to LinkedIn Learning. I have a bunch of courses there. You can listen to podcasts. Hopefully, your readers are learning something new here. You can listen to books on Audible. You can have conversations with people. That is where the mentorship comes into play.

All of these things are critical. Open your mind up to new knowledge. Don’t worry about reading eight hours a day, but go in every day with an open mind and absorb. Even if you don’t understand what you’re going to do with this information now, you might be able to connect it to another piece of information later on. That’s going to be a connection that other people don’t yet see.

Open your mind to new knowledge. Click To Tweet

Before your readers ask me about that 5:00 AM, if you are a night owl and you don’t go to bed until 3:00 AM, you’re not waking up at 5:00 AM. Let’s be realistic. What these high achievers do is they leverage their peak performance hours. I am a morning person. I do wake up early, which means I do my most focused work in the morning. For me, that’s a lot of writing and editing. I don’t waste my time on passive tasks with social media, emails, or Zoom. I don’t let that eat into my peak performance hours. I save those for the hours that are more sluggish, which are usually after lunchtime. It is why people don’t know we’re recording this in the afternoon because of that.

I tend to be a morning person. I like to get my workout done first thing in the morning. It gives me more energy for the day. I do my best thinking before lunchtime. After that, it’s more of the routine things. With this point you make about being open, you can learn from anyone, in any situation, and anywhere. All those seemingly random facts they do, if you treat them right, gel in some way that will find their way to being helpful to you at some point down the road.

Someway and somehow, you have to be open to all of that information, and you’ll see. They say, “When the student is ready, the teacher arrives.” That’s what that means. The knowledge is everywhere. You might not have been open to it all the time.

You emphasize the importance, at several points in the book, of finding your tribe, community, or people. I wanted to ask you to talk more about that.

You have different people. We call that a community of practice. You can understand what you are going through. These are people who can see you and support you at different stages of your career. Those people might change over time. Your group of people who you had in your twenties might not be the same group in your 40s. These are people who, when you accomplish something, or you get promoted, they’re there to support you. When you are having a tough time, they are there to help you, and you are also doing that for them. They’ve got their eyes and ears open for opportunities for you, and you are doing that for them.

That’s something that every person needs to surround themselves with. You also need a team of mentors, not just one, because we always used to think it’s somebody who’s older, wiser, and male. That is an outdated way of thinking about things. You need a team of mentors, some who look like you, some who don’t look like you, older, younger, at your level. That will show you new perspectives, skills, and opportunities, but you have to be open to it.

That was one of the things I noticed about the Thinkers 50 Conference that I thought was great. I went there as a listener. I’m not necessarily looking to build my stature as a speaker. For some of the people there, getting on that list has economic value in terms of your ability to do consulting work and keynote speeches. I didn’t have that at play. One of the things that impressed me is that, despite all that, it was such a supportive environment. When you find those places, like your community or tribe, there is that great level of mutual support. It raises you up.

Amy Edmondson, for the first time she was ranked number one in 2021, I got the Radar Award, which is the top emerging management thinker. She got the top management thinker. What’s fascinating is that I study success, and her new book is about studying failure. We have had to be on the same stage more than once. You would think that it’s two competitors. No, we’re thinking about ways to collaborate. That’s not the first time. There are people in The Thinker 50. We work together and collaborate. If I can’t do this keynote, I will ask somebody who’s in The Thinkers 50, “Is anyone available that they can do it?”

We also have, for people who made the radar list, which is the top emerging, Thinkers 50 announces 30 every year. I started a chat group for us. This way, we can learn and promote each other’s stuff. I said, “I’m working on an article. I am looking to reference an article about whatever the topic was. Is anyone here an expert in that? Did you write a paper on it that you can send me?” That happens all the time.

If I want to learn about a specific topic, I’ve got the experts right there in my chat group. I can get that information immediately. When you get people like that, and you get people who want to raise you up and amplify your work, and you’re doing the same thing for them, trust me, that’s what you need in your life.

I want to go back to mentoring to close out the topic of your book. For people who aren’t these exceptionally high performers, what advice do you offer to them in terms of how to raise their game to the degree that they can?

I broke the book The Success Factor into three sections. I talk about the four elements of success and why you need them. The third section is all about how to implement it in your life and things you can start doing immediately. These are small, low-hanging fruit things that you can do to start improving your success. I created a buffet of options for each thing. If we’re talking about your need to leverage your peak performance hours, how are you going to do that? I give you all sorts of ideas and instructions on how to do that.

I tell people, “This is the book you put by your nightstand. You can flip through it at any time for another idea.” I tried this. It worked for a while, but I got bored with it. I need something new. I’ve got something new for you. That is to help people elevate their success. People who have done it, I get messages from people all the time. They got promoted at work. They were able to join these choice committees. All kinds of great things happen.

You talked earlier about how mentees out-earn, they’re happier, and they suffer less burnout. What is it about mentoring that drives that?

This is something that I talk about quite a bit in the new upcoming book, The Financial Times Guide to Mentoring. Sometimes, we need someone to hold up a mirror because we’re deep inside the jar. We don’t have perspective. We can’t read the label. Everything is doom and gloom. When you have a mentor, they have that 60,000-foot view. They could say, “It’s not as bad as you think it is. This is a moment in time, but this is a much longer game.”

They’re able to do that. They can hold you accountable when you say, “Do you want to do this? Fine. What are you doing to make this happen? You said you wanted it. What are you doing about it?” They can be your guide by your side. They can be the gutter rails. They can offer the scaffolding. They could be the sounding board or a cheerleader. Those are all the things that are part of the mentor roles.

They have two main functions. One is to help with your career, strategize, help you focus, set goals, and help you achieve those goals. The other is to be your cheerleader and promote and talk about your successes, amplify your work, and cheer you on when you’re feeling down. The incredible mentors can do both.

One of the people who I interviewed was Dr. Bob Lefkowitz. He won the Nobel Prize in 2012. Early on in the ‘60s, he was working at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. After he won the Nobel Prize in 2012, they reached out to his former mentor at the National Institutes of Health. The mentor said, “My biggest role was to keep Bob out of a deep, dark depression. For two years, his experiments weren’t working.” Can you imagine failure every single day? He was there to say, “Bob, keep going.” He kept going all the way to the Nobel Prize.

It comes back to that element of perseverance that we talked about earlier in the conversation. In mentoring, there’s an element of fit and chemistry that has to be at play. For somebody who is interested in finding a mentor, we’ll set aside the idea of having a group of mentors. What are the right places to find a mentor?

I say, “Wherever there are people, there are potential mentors.” Don’t worry about giving people titles. We have enough titles and labels. What you want to see is who you can connect with. Who is making you think harder, deeper, and differently? Those are the people you want to be around. They’re willing to tickle your curiosity and answer your questions. They have the time.

Those are the types of people that you want to be around. I have mentors who text me. That’s how we can communicate because we’re in different time zones. Setting up a Zoom is almost impossible. If I have a quick question, I text them, and they text me right back. Sometimes, they leave me a voice message because that’s easier, and that’s fine.

How should a mentee come into the relationship?

The mentee has to do the heavy lifting. They have to know what they want. If somebody comes in and they say, “JR, help me with my career.” You’ll say, “Where do I even start?” It has to be contextual. You have to say, “I need help with this specific thing.” When you start doing that and make it contextual and specific, you will see that they can give you targeted guidance. Otherwise, it’s a lot of hand-waving.

If you want help, you have to be specific. It grows because people like to attach themselves to people with the potential to be successful. You have to prove it and show it. JR, I listen to what you said. I did most of it. I didn’t agree with this one piece, but I did most of it and listened to what happened. You’re excited.

Having been on both sides of these relationships, I’ve certainly been in a situation, particularly when you have a mentor matching things that you will do at work or school. The mentee comes into it, looks at you, and says, “What do we do?” You got to put the work back on them. If they don’t get that, it’s not going to go anywhere.

Based on what you say about the mentor matching programs, I’ve yet to see one that works because they’re random. They’ll say, “You’re both from the United States. Therefore, you’re a perfect mentor-mentee.” Not everyone from the same country, state, city, zip code, or school is the same. Instead, create these organic ways for people to connect. Teaching people how to have these professional conversations with people, what we used to call networking, is more important than any match you will make. If people know how to have those conversations, they will naturally be attracted and gravitate towards certain people.

Are there tools or frameworks that you recommend to people to help them get the flywheel effect and the relationship going?

I’ll give your readers two resources that they can use. The first one is conversation starters are important. You cannot go to any event without this toolbox of conversation starters, which are benign ways to start conversations beyond the weather. I put thirteen of my favorites together, which I have personally used, and found them successful. Your readers can go to They’ll get all those conversation starters. If they want to know how to develop a mentoring team, they can go to There’s a bullseye worksheet that teaches them how to put a mentoring team together, which is something that we worked on at Thinkers 50.

How would you talk about a mentoring team relative to the idea of a personal board of advisors?

It’s the same thing. People have different terms for it. They also call it Constellation and the kitchen cabinet. It’s the same thing. I advocate for people at three levels, and people who are senior to you at your level and junior to you. I also have all these different types of people that you should have on your mentoring team within and outside your industry. These are retirees, people who can teach you skills, people who can give you perspective. All kinds of people like that you should have on your mentoring team if you want to get it robust.

Talk about reverse mentoring. We hear more about that these days.

Back in the day, the traditional way was for somebody who is junior to go up to somebody who is a senior to learn from them. Those in senior roles are learning that there’s much to learn from those who are junior to them. We have five generations working in the workplace. People in Generation X or above did not have internet when they were in school. They don’t understand the full effect of how you can learn in a hybrid learning environment. They didn’t have that. It’s learning from somebody who’s different than you, usually at a lower rank. It’s the person in the senior role who is open to learning and doing most of the listening.

You also bring up, in the book, the term friendtor. What do you mean by a friendtor? How is that similar and different from a mentor?

A friendtor is a peer who’s also your friend and a peer mentor. I share the story of these two incredible women, Lynn Wooten and Erika James, who met in their twenties when they were graduate students at the University of Michigan. They happened to be sitting next to each other in an auditorium. They talk to each other five times a week on their way to work. They have written a few books together. Their latest one is The Prepared Leader. They do crisis management leadership.

These two women met as grad students. Lynn Wooten is now the President of Simmons University in Boston. Erika James is the Dean of Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania. They’re best friends. They’re each other’s mentors. They’re friendtors. They’re friends who are each other’s mentors. They learn from each other. When I spoke to them, they each had their strengths and areas of opportunity. The strength of one is not the strength of the other, which is why they make such a great pair.

These relationships don’t always go as you would like them to go. What are some of the challenges that you run into other than a lack of chemistry, challenges, and conflicts? What advice do you have for people on how to work through the things that sometimes arise in a mentoring relationship?

That could happen. They take credit for your work. They’re too busy to help you. They will not have difficult conversations. They will not let you work with anyone else because they see that as a threat to their own role or position. It’s somebody who wants to be everybody’s friend and will not stand up for you. It gives you these menial tasks so that you can’t grow. They try to keep you in your space. They’re trying to create you in their version, what I call the mini-me. Those are all ways that a mentor can turn into a tormentor.

What advice would you give somebody who wants to be doing more mentoring in terms of how to be a good mentor?

Learning how to listen is one of the key traits because it’s not about what you want. It’s what the mentee wants. Learn how to listen to what they want. Help guide the mentees on what they want. Give them resources, introduce them to people, help them overcome imposter syndrome, and open doors they didn’t even know existed.

Think of what my mentor told me. He told me to think big or do something important, not interesting. You want to push them to think bigger than they thought possible. Those are the ways to be a great mentor. If your readers have access to LinkedIn Learning, I have a course called Becoming an Inspiring Mentor.

You do research. You write regularly on this topic. What are some of the innovations, if there is such a thing, that are coming to the world of mentoring?

We’re beginning to understand the role that a successful mentor can have. We realize that we need to start training the mentors. We’ve always trained mentees on how to do well. We’ve never trained mentors. We’re realizing that is an opportunity, and we can’t mentor in a one-size-fits-all model. We need to mentor different people in different ways.

There are different models of mentoring. We need to fully understand how to mentor people who are different than us, neurodiverse, and hybrid. All of these things become something that’s ongoing and something that’s learning. We are also realizing that even people who are at the top of the game still need mentors. As soon as people are open to that, the world is going to be a better place.

For the companies, given that most mentor-matching programs fail, what advice do you give?

I tell them, “When you do things one-on-one, it usually doesn’t work.” Instead, I offer that they create these hubs and groups and put a couple of mentors and a couple of mentees together so that the mentees can learn from each other. Let’s say the two of us are mentors. If it’s not my area of expertise, maybe it’s your area of expertise. I can also, as a mentor, learn from you in the process.

It creates a safety net because what if you leave the organization? What happens to your mentees? They’re stranded. This way, if there’s already somebody there, there’s another mentor they could piggyback and tag team. Nobody is ever left stranded. Somebody new can come in as a new mentor. There also needs to be an exit ramp. If it’s not working for any reason or they’re not gelling, there has to be an exit ramp where the mentees can find a different mentor.

Even the best mentoring relationships run their course.

My mentors when I was in my twenties are not my mentors now. The mentor who gave me those six words of brilliant advice is a friend now. It’s not someone who I talk to. He’s a friendtor.

You described yourself as a mere mortal earlier, but you’re a high achiever. You’ve made the Thinkers 50 top of the radar list. You’re on the main list now. What do you think has fueled your success over the years?

The biggest lesson I have learned is that if you want success, you have to go after it. You can’t expect other people to open the doors for you. You have to tear them down and do the work. We’ve all learned that we shouldn’t market our successes. How are we supposed to help people if people don’t even know what we do? Once I’ve learned it’s okay to do that, things started happening.

You can still do that with humility.

I insist on doing it at work. It’s not about what I achieved. It’s what the work has achieved. That’s much better. I’m more comfortable with that.

Can you describe an instance where you tore the doors down?

There was an award, which was a big award in my industry. It was my last year of eligibility. Let me backtrack. Several years before that, I nominated somebody who I thought was well deserving. He told me who to ask for letters of recommendation. I put the packet together, and he got the award. It was my last year of eligibility.

When I nominated the person, somebody else wanted to nominate me and asked him for a letter of support. He said, “I can’t because Ruth is already nominating me. It would be weird.” I remember he told me about it. I asked the person who wanted to nominate me several years later. I said, “Would you nominate me?” She said, “Of course.”

I said, “I learned from the guy a few years ago. I’ll tell you who would write my letters of support. Here’s my buyer. Here’s everything you need. All you need to do is put a ribbon on it and sign your name.” That was the first time I ever asked somebody to nominate me. I won the award. I was a faculty member, but I was the second woman and the youngest person to ever win the award. If I would not have asked somebody to nominate me, that never would’ve happened.

Besides knocking down doors, what are some of the other things you’ve had to develop that weren’t necessarily natural strengths for you?

Can you believe writing?


I never enjoyed writing until I was writing my dissertation. I realized that I was always writing with somebody else’s prompts. These were not things that I was interested in, but something that I was told to write about. When I was writing my dissertation, it was what I loved. Years later, I still write academic articles. I’m a faculty member. My joy is writing articles for Forbes, Psychology Today, and Harvard Business Review because that’s more lay language. That’s strategies people can implement immediately.

I also write for the career section of Nature. I have this writing partner. We wrote a piece together for Scientific American and Nature. I said, “I want to write about networking for introverts.” I approached my friend. She said, “I can’t write it with you. This is not my area, but this is your area. You write it. I had never written anything by myself before.” I wrote it. I submitted the piece. It was rejected, and I was crushed. It was picked up by another editor. That piece later went on to become one of the most popular in the top 2% of all Nature articles. It still has a life of its own. Every few months, it comes up again. It’s called Networking for Introverts. That’s one of them.

The other is I had a goal of writing for Harvard Business Review. It’s a very particular style. I was rejected five times. I was telling that astronaut, Dr. Peggy Whitson, about it when she told me her story of waiting ten years. She said, “You can’t give up. Figure out what you’re missing and keep submitting.” I did. I wrote a piece about the Four Elements of Success found in the book. It was accepted. It was the most engaged article of 2023 in Harvard Business Review. People spent more time reading it than anything else. I implemented the lessons from the book.

Any last career advice that you would want to give our readers or something you wish you had known when you were straight out of your undergraduate days?

It’s advice that my late father gave me, which is if you don’t ask, you don’t get it. I have learned over the years to ask because when you ask, you’re giving people the opportunity to say yes.

It’s a good place for us to stop. This has been great. I appreciate you doing it with me. It was a fun conversation.

Thank you. It was exciting. I enjoyed.

Thank you, Ruth. Have a good day.

Thanks. Bye.

I want to thank Ruth for joining me to cover her groundbreaking work on mentorship and success. If you’d like to make the most of your career and be as successful as possible, you can visit and become a member. Basic membership is free. You can also sign up on the PathWise newsletter website and follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok. Thanks. Have a great day.


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About Ruth Gotian

Career Sessions, Career Lessons | Ruth Gotian | High AchieversRuth Gotian is the Chief Learning Officer, Associate Professor of Education in Anesthesiology, and former Assistant Dean of Mentoring and Executive Director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine. She publishes on topics such as networking, mentoring, leadership development and optimizing success, and has written for Nature, Scientific American, Academic Medicine, Psychology Today, Forbes, and Harvard Business Review.



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