The most successful people share these traits

The definition of success is a moving target and changes based on who you ask. Leading researchers have confirmed that success factors can be learned and optimized, especially through the emulation of the mindsets of successful performers. Successful high achievers are defined as people who have created a paradigm shift in the way we look at things, process things, or think about things. They effectively move their field forward and are recognized for their contributions. As they are ascending in their career, they bring other people along with them who share in their team’s success. “A light on someone else doesn’t dim your light, it actually makes it shine brighter.”  — Dr. Robert Lefkowitz, Nobel Prize winner. During Episode # 35 of my podcast, The World Class Leaders Show, I interviewed Dr. Ruth Gotian, who has researched the most successful people of our generation, including Nobel laureates, astronauts, CEOs and Olympic champions, in order to learn about their habits and practices. Dr. Gotian is the Chief Learning Officer and Assistant Professor of Education in Anesthesiology and former Assistant Dean of Mentoring and Executive Director of the Mentoring Academy at Weill Cornell Medicine. Recognized for her work, in 2021 she was one of 30 people worldwide to be named to the Thinkers50 Radar List, and is a semi-finalist for the Forbes 50 Over 50 list. Dr. Gotian publishes on topics ranging from networking, mentoring, leadership development and optimizing success and has given keynote talks on these themes all over the globe. She regularly contributes to such journals as Nature, Scientific American, Academic Medicine, Psychology Today, Forbes and Harvard Business Review. She is the author of The Success Factor – Developing the Mindset and Skillset for Peak Performance.

Four Primary Elements of Successful Achievers

  • Intrinsic Motivation
  • Work Ethic
  • A Strong Foundation
  • Continuous Learning

Intrinsic Motivation

Passionate curiosity that comes from within you about your subject matter helps to sustain high levels of motivation and builds resilience in overcoming setbacks and obstacles.

Work Ethic

For high achievers, it’s never a question of “if”. Rather, it’s a question of “how”. There’s no doubt that difficulties will be overcome — the word “yet” is always used at the end of a sentence describing delays or challenges. This component also includes the ability of an individual to focus and to enter the ‘flow state’ of optimized performance.

Strong Foundation

High achievers never lose sight of the basics and will revisit them often. They are constantly reinforcing that what worked for them early in their career will also work for them later in their career, and they never rest on their laurels.

Continuous Learning

When we look at the lives and habits of billionaires like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Mark Cuban, we can see that they spend several hours per week reading, listening to podcasts, and attending knowledge forums like webinars and conferences. What they all have in common is that they are open to new knowledge, and actively seek it out. All of the extreme high achievers have surrounded themselves with a team of mentors who believed in them, perhaps even more than they believed in themselves.

Application of the Elements of Success to Team Performance

Every person on a high-performance team plays a unique role within the team. Senior members are role models and mentors, junior players bring energy to the team, and the middle group represents the glue that keeps the team together. Every single team member is fighting for something else on the team; from the number one player who wants to retain the top position, to the last player ‘on the bench’ who is fighting to stay on the team — their roles can equally be leveraged to motivate the team. The culture of a high-performance team is created by the observance of the leader: what mistakes are made and ‘let go’, and the accomplishments that are celebrated. A successful multi-disciplinary team is made up of several different types of people. This will generally include:
  • Someone who can see problems, and looks for things that can go wrong
  • Somebody who can brainstorm ideas and look for solutions
  • People who can create a ‘prototype’ and is able to visualize and develop a working model
  • Individuals who know how to execute, not just think.

Managing Obstacles to Success

  • Fear of failure and its repercussions
  • Fear of success and resulting change
  • Imposter syndrome – fear of being identified as a fraud
  • Self-sabotage, such as someone who goes out partying the night before a big presentation.
High achievers fear “not trying” more than they fear failure. The truth is that failure simply delivers more data that teaches you. When people are afraid of change that will disturb the status quo, it’s valuable to keep in mind that change can be more gradual and still be very effective. As long as it’s sustained, even a small amount of change that may not be perceived as threatening (such as 10%) can result in over 50% of an organization being changed over the course of five years. Useful examples of small changes compounding into major effects over time can be extracted from the book “Atomic Habits” by James Clear.

Questions for Dr. Gotian:

Q: What is one thing you’ve learned throughout your career? A: If you don’t ask, you don’t get. If you ask, the worst that can happen is that you may be told no. Whereas, the act of asking offers an opportunity to be told “YES”. Q: What is one thing you might have done differently? A: I would not have let other people dictate and decide what it is that I need to do. Q: Is there a book that had a notable impact or influence on your professional career? A: There are a few that have been very valuable to me:
  • “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Stockholm” by Dr. Robert Lefkowitz.
  • “A Higher Standard” by General Ann Dunwoody, the first female four-star general in the United States.
  • “The Power of Regret” by Daniel Pink.
If you’d like to find out more about Dr Gotian’s work, visit her website at: Dr. Gotian’s best selling book, “The Success Factor” can be purchased from Amazon: If you’d like to know more about Andrea Petrone’s work with leaders and organizations, and to learn about available resources, podcasts and assessment tools, go to: Listen to the podcast related to this article:  
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