Successful entrepreneurs are renowned for cultivating relationships with mentors.
Mark Zuckerberg, for example, famously learned lessons from Steve Jobs, former Washington Post owner Don Graham, Bill Gates, and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen. "People always ask, How does [Zuckerberg] have the wisdom of someone 20 years older?" says leadership expert Bill George. "The answer is, he sought out really good mentors, early on."
As it turns out, the same mentor-seeking strategy has helped Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera take his team to Super Bowl 50. Here's a quick list of what Rivera has learned from three of his mentors:
1. How to formulate a game plan on defense.
After Rivera's nine-year playing career with the Chicago Bears, including a starting role on the championship team of 1985, he became an entry-level coach with the Bears for two years. Then Jim Johnson, the defensive coordinator for the Philadelphia Eagles at the time, hired him to be his linebackers coach.
It was the start of Rivera's successful coaching career. He eventually returned to the Bears to serve as their defensive coordinator. He later served the San Diego Chargers in the same capacity. In 2009, when Johnson died from cancer, Rivera reflected on what he'd learned from his mentor. "He took the time to teach me and show me. I wouldn't be where I am today without him mentoring, showing me and giving me the opportunity," he told Chargers.com at the time.
Under Johnson's tutelage, Rivera learned how to script plays and assemble a game plan. Eventually, Johnson entrusted Rivera with putting together the Eagles' defensive game plans. Johnson then would provide tough-love feedback on those game plans, giving Rivera the sort of learning opportunity some coaches go a whole life without receiving.
Rivera also recalls learning from Johnson how to teach and mentor other coaches with tough love and passion. And the teaching began the moment after Rivera was hired. Rivera explained to Chargers.com: "I had just finished signing my contract and he walked into my office and closed the door. He said, 'Listen. I'm an old linebacker coach. Don't take anything personal when I come in and take over your meetings, when I take over your drills. I can't help myself. Don't take it personal when I'm hard on you because I'm just trying to teach you.' That's exactly what he did."
2. How to hold players to a high standard.
For the entirety of Rivera's playing career with the Chicago Bears, the head coach was Mike Ditka. Whereas Johnson taught Rivera about the mechanics of coordinating a defense, Ditka taught Rivera another important thing about being a coach: How to be tough and disciplined on your players.
"Ditka was a hard-ass," Rivera told Sports Illustrated's Monday Morning Quarterback site. "He pushed, pushed, pushed. It took me a lot of time to understand why he demanded so much, why he was so upset when we didn't do certain things right. He played the game and believed that if he could do it, you could do it."
3. How to stay true to yourself.
Whereas Rivera got to know Ditka as a player and Johnson as an assistant, he had no prior connection to John Madden, the broadcasting legend who won Super Bowl XI in 1977 as the coach of the Raiders.
But somewhere along the line, he got Madden's phone number. And in the spring of 2013, when he was visiting his parents on the West Coast, he gave Madden a call, reports ESPN.com's David Newton.
Rivera would've been happy to pick Madden's brain over a cup of coffee, Newton reports. But Madden, out of sheer generosity and a love of coaching, analyzed Panthers' game film for Rivera. And Rivera took assiduous notes.
Madden also told Rivera to stay true to himself. Summing up what he'd learned from Madden and other mentors, Rivera told Newton: "They all came around to say one thing: be true to who you are. So I've tried to do that. I am a better coach.''