Day 1: Composition
In his book My Personal Best, John Wooden writes, “There is a choice you have to make in every-
thing you do, so keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make makes you.” Nowhere is this
more evident than in your relationships. Nothing will influence your talent as much as the impor-
tant relationships in your life. Surround yourself with people who add value to you and encourage
you, and your talent will go in a positive direction. Spend time with people who constantly drain
you, pull you in the wrong direction, or try to knock you down, and it will be almost impossible for
your talent to take flight. People can trace the successes and failures in their lives to their most sig-
Describe your ideal relationship.
What would you contribute to your ideal relationship?
THE IMPACT OF RELATIONSHIPS
I think many people mistakenly minimize the impact that other people can have on their lives. My
parents understood the influence of relationships. Today as I look back on my formative years, I see
how intentional they were about who we spent time with and who we selected as our friends. My
parents made our house the place to be in the neighborhood. We had a pool table, a Ping-Pong
table, and a chemistry set in our basement. We had a shuffleboard court, a basketball court, and a
Wiffle-ball diamond in our yard. Everybody wanted to come to our house. And that was the strategy.
My parents wanted to be able to know the kids we played with. Typical of the times (it was the 1950s
and 1960s), my mom didn’t work outside the home, so she was always there to keep an eye on us.
Mom was always on the periphery of our play, fixing us lunch or a cold drink, putting Band-Aids
on cuts, and observing the interaction and behavior of each person. Every now and then, she would
ask my brother Larry, my sister Trish, or me about a particular friend.
As children, we had no idea of the importance of associating with good kids rather than bad
ones, but our parents did. They made sure the influences on our lives were positive.
Years later when I was an adult and I spent several hours a week counseling people, I learned
through daily observation what my parents knew. Almost all our sorrows can be traced to relation-
ships with the wrong people and our joys to relationships with the right people.
Are you intentional about the people you spend time with? How have you modified the amount of
time you spend with those people you listed in Chapter 2 as firelighters or firefighters?
THE DIRECTION RELATIONSHIPS TAKE US
The relationships in our lives really do make or break us. They either lift us up or take us down.
They add, or they subtract. They help to give us energy, or they take it away. Here’s what I mean:
1. Some Relationships Take from Us
There are a couple of good ways to tell whether a relationship is positive or negative. The first is to
note whether a person makes you feel better or worse about yourself. The second relates to how
much energy the relationship requires. Let’s face it, some relationships feel as if they could suck the
life out of you. In his book High Maintenance Relationships, Les Parrott identifies the types of people
who are likely to hurt us and take energy from us. Here are some of them:
Critics constantly complain or give unwanted advice.
Martyrs are forever the victim and wracked with self-pity.
Wet blankets are pessimistic and habitually negative.
Steamrollers are blindly insensitive to others.
Gossips spread rumors and leak secrets.
Control freaks are unable to let go and let things be.
Backstabbers are irrepressively two-faced.
Green-eyed monsters seethe with envy.
Volcanoes build steam and are always ready to erupt.
Sponges are always in need but never give anything back.
Competitors always keep track of tit for tat.
Les also offers a straightforward quiz that can help you tell whether someone in your life is a
negative person who takes energy from you.
Answer yes or no to the following questions as they relate to each of the five people you listed at the
start of this chapter:
___Do you feel especially anxious when a particular person has called and left a message for you to
return the call?
Have you recently been dealing with a relationship that drains you of enthusiasm and energy?
Do you sometimes dread having to see or talk to a particular person at work or in a social situation?
Do you have a relationship in which you give more than you get in return?
Do you find yourself second-guessing your own performance as a result of an interaction with this
Do you become more self-critical in the presence of this person?
Is your creativity blocked, or is your clarity of mind hampered somewhat, by the lingering discomfort
of having to deal with a difficult person?
Do you try to calm yourself after being with this person by eating more, biting your nails, or engaging in some other unhealthy habit?
Do you ever have imaginary conversations with this person or mental arguments in which you de-
fend yourself or try to explain your side of a conflict?
Have you become more susceptible to colds, stomach problems, or muscle tension since having to
deal with this difficult person?
Do you feel resentful that this person seems to treat other people better than she or he treats you?
Do you find yourself wondering why this person singles you out for criticism but rarely acknowl-
edges things you do well?
Have you thought about quitting your job as a result of having to interact with this difficult person?
Have you noticed that you are more irritable or impatient with people you care about because of left-
over frustrations from your interaction with this difficult person?
Are you feeling discouraged that this person has continued to drain you of energy despite your ef-
forts to improve the relationship?
Les says that if you answered yes to ten or more of the questions, then you are certainly in a high
I don’t mean to imply that these are the only relationships require you to put energy into them. All
relationships require you to give some energy. Relationships don’t cultivate and sustain themselves.
The question is, how much energy do they require? And do they give anything in return? For exam-
ple, some of the positive relationships that require a tremendous amount of energy in my life in-
• My family—every family has ups and down, but that’s okay; that’s what it means to be in a fam-
• My inner circle of friends—these people get everything I’ve got, and they give their all, too;
that’s what friendship is all about.
• My team—leadership begins with a serving attitude; I always try to give more than I receive.
• Those less fortunate than I am—every year I travel to developing countries to train leaders and
add value to people through EQUIP, my nonprofit organization.
If a relationship requires you to expend energy some of the time, that’s normal. If a relationship
saps your energy all the time, then that relationship has a negative effect on you. You may be able to
see its effects in many areas of your life. It dilutes your talent because it robs you of energy that you
could be using toward your best gifts and skills. It distracts you from your purpose. And it detracts
from your best efforts. In the long run, a negative relationship cannot influence your talent in a
2. Some Relationships Add to Us
Some relationships clearly make us better. They energize, inspire, and validate us. They lift us up
and give us joy. We should consider the people in these relationships friends and value them high-
ly. Helen Keller remarked, “My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways they have
turned my limitations into beautiful privileges, and enabled me to walk serene and happy in the
shadow cast by my deprivation.”
In my book The Treasure of a Friend, I reflect on the nature of friendship. Who else but a friend is
there . . .
to believe in your dreams,
to share your joys,
to dry your tears,
to give you hope,
to comfort your hurts,
to laugh with you,
to show you a better way,
to tell you the truth,
to encourage you.
Who else can do that for you?
That’s what friends are for.
Not long ago, I sat down and listed the types of people who add value to my life and give me en-
ergy. Here is what I wrote:
1. My family—the best moments with my family are my best moments.
2. Creative people—they unleash creativity within me like no others.
3. Successful people—I love to hear their stories.
4. Encouraging people—encouragement is like oxygen to my soul.
5. Fun people—laughter always lifts my spirit.
6. Good thinkers—conversations with them are my favorite things.
7. My team—they always add value to me.
8. Learners—interested people are interesting people.
Positive relationships take us to a higher level. They encourage us and bring out the best in us. They
make us better than we otherwise would be without them. They are some of life’s greatest gifts!
List and describe the types of people who add the most value to your life.
SOME RELATIONSHIPS ARE PIVOTAL TO OUR LIVES
Throughout a lifetime, people are in contact with thousands of people in varying levels of relation-
ships. Most have a very limited impact on us. But a few relationships have such a tremendous im-
pact that they change the course of our lives. They are pivotal to who we are and what we do.
Relationships commonly go through four stages:
1. Surface relationships. These require no commitment from either person. Examples include the
clerk who helps you at the post office, acquaintances at church or the gym, and your favorite waiter
at the neighborhood restaurant. You recognize these people, and they recognize you. You may even
know their names, but you don’t know much beyond what you can observe from a distance.
Who are you on the surface level with? How could you both benefit if you moved to the next level
with this person?
2. Structured relationships. The next level is a little more involved than surface relationships.
Structured relationships occur around routine encounters, usually at a particular place at a partic-
ular time. They often develop around a common interest or activity. The people you know from
school or work, the parents at your kid’s activities, and people who share your hobbies fall into this
Who are you on the structured level with? How could you both benefit if you moved to the next level
with this person? __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
3. Secure relationships. When a surface or structured relationship grows, trust develops, and the
people involved begin to want to spend time together, it starts to develop into a genuine personal
relationship. This is the level where you develop friendships.
Who are you on the secure level with? How could you both benefit if you moved to the next level
with this person?
4. Solid relationships. When people in a secure relationship build on their friendship and develop
complete trust and absolute confidentiality, it can go to the solid relationship level. These relation-
ships are long-term and are characterized by a mutual desire to give and serve one another. Your
desire should be to cultivate the most important relationships in your life: your spouse, your best
friends, and your inner circle.
Who are you on the solid level with? How do you show these people appreciation for their invest-
ment in your life?
As the level of relationship increases, so does the influence of people on one another. And each
time people try to take the relationship higher, it creates a period of testing. During that time, the
relationship can go one way or another, positive or negative. If the dynamic becomes lose-lose or
win-lose, the relationship is negative. Positive relationships are always overall win-win.
Every now and then, a relationship goes beyond solid to become significant, a relationship that is
pivotal to your life. I don’t think anyone can try to create one of these relationships. I call them sim-
ply God’s gift to me. I don’t deserve them—but I do need them. People with whom I have enjoyed
this kind of relationship give beyond reason and lift me up to a level I could not achieve without
them. If you ever encounter someone who has that impact on you, fight to preserve that rela-
tionship, show your gratitude often, and give whatever you can in return.
FIVE SIGNS OF A SOLID RELATIONSHIP
Relationships at the secure level validate us and help us to become more comfortable with who
we are and to discover our gifts and talents. Solid relationships add value to us so that our talent is
actually enhanced. Our solid friends tell us the truth in a supportive way. They keep us grounded. If
we start to get off course, they help keep us on track. They encourage us when we’re down and in-
spire us to go higher. A few solid relationships can make all the difference in where a talented per-
son ends up in life.
As you engage in relationships, try to find people with whom you can build solid relationships
that are mutually beneficial. Here are the signs that a relationship is headed toward that level:
1. Mutual Enjoyment
In solid relationships, people spend time together just for the enjoyment of being together. What
they do is not of significance. For example, my wife, Margaret, and I often run errands together.
What’s enjoyable about dropping off the dry cleaning, buying groceries, or picking up items at a
neighborhood shop? Nothing—except spending time with her.
I think when many of us were kids, we intuitively understood the value of spending time with
someone special. Do you remember how it felt to sit on the lap of your mother or father when you
were small? Or how excited you got when a favorite uncle or a grandparent came to visit? Or how it
felt when you first started dating? Unfortunately the busy- ness and pressures of life often cause us
to forget what a joy this can be. I’ve always valued time with Margaret. Now that she and I are
grandparents, time with people I love means even more to me. Try not to let the stresses of life
make you lose track of that.
When can you spend time this week with someone you are in a solid relationship with? What will
When you value someone on the front end of a relationship, you earn respect on the back end. And
that’s foundational to all solid relationships. When do people respect you? When you don’t let
obstacles or circumstances become more important to you than the relationship. When the pres-
sure is on and you still treat them with patience and respect. When the relationship is struggling
and you are willing to work hard to protect and preserve it. That’s when you have proven worthy of
others’ respect. Respect is almost always built on difficult ground.
Proverbs, the book of wisdom, teaches about the strength of relationships:
Friends are scarce (18:24).
Friends will not jump ship when the going gets rough (17:17).
Friends will be available for counsel (27:9).
Friends will speak the truth to you (27:6).
Friends will sharpen you (27:17).
Friends will be sensitive to your feelings (26:18–19).
Friends will stick with you (16:28; 18:24).
People who respect each other and build a solid relationship enjoy all of these benefits of friend-
3. Shared Experiences
Going through a significant experience with another person creates a mutual bond. The experience
can be positive or negative. Families come together and enjoy reminiscing about vacations they
took years before (often the more disastrous, the more fondly remembered!). Colleagues build rela-
tionships as they work together on high pressure projects.
Soldiers talk about the bond that occurs as they train together and how it only increases if they go
to war together. We all need others to lean on and to celebrate with. Shared experiences give us
I still remember vividly my father taking me out of school when I was ten years old so that I could
accompany him on a business trip. At the time, he was a district superintendent in our denomi-
nation, which meant that he was a pastor and leader to many pastors of local churches in our re-
gion. Dad and I packed for the trip and traveled from town to town by car. As we rode along, we
talked. As he met with the various pastors, I watched him encouraging them. It not only created a
special bond between us, but it modeled the kind of work with people that I would one day be doing
myself. It is an experience I will treasure until the day I die.
How will you create an opportunity for a shared experience with your child or someone else you
Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The glory of friendship is not in the outstretched hand, nor the kindly
smile, nor the joy of companionship; it is in the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when he dis-
covers that someone else believes in him and is willing to trust him.” Trust is both a joy of relation-
ships and a necessary component. In my book Winning with People, I described the Bedrock Prin-
ciple, which says, “Trust is the foundation of any relationship.” Nothing is more important in rela-
tionships. If you don’t have trust, you don’t have much of a relationship.
What allows you to trust someone? Why would others find you trustworthy?
All relationships experience ebb and flow. Sometimes one person is the primary giver. Sometimes
the other person is. But relationships that continue to be one-sided will not remain solid. When
they continue to be out of balance, they become unstable and often unhealthy. If you want the rela-
tionship to continue, you will need to make changes. Here’s how it works:
When you are getting the better of the relationship, changes must be made.
When the other person is getting the better part, changes must be made.
When you’re both getting an equally good deal, continue as before.
Friendships are like bank accounts. You cannot continue to draw on them without making de-
posits. If either of you becomes overdrawn and it stays that way, then the relationship won’t last.
Are you “overdrawn” in any of your current friendships? How can you adjust to preserve the rela-
Solid relationships must be beneficial to both parties. Each person has to put the other first, and
both have to benefit. Hall of Fame football coach Vince Lombardi described this when he was
asked what made a winning team. He observed,
There are a lot of coaches with good ball clubs who know the fundamentals and have plenty of
discipline but still don’t win the game. Then you come to the third ingredient: if you’re going to
play together as a team, you’ve got to care for one another. You’ve got to love each other. Each
player has to be thinking about the next guy and saying to himself, “If I don’t block that man,
Paul is going to get his legs broken. I have to do my job in order that he can do his.” The differ-
ence between mediocrity and greatness is the feeling these guys have for each other.
Solid relationships are always win-win. If both people aren’t winning, then the relationship isn’t
solid, and it won’t last.
TALENT + RELATIONSHIPS = A TALENT-PLUS PERSON
PUTTING THE TALENT-PLUS FORMULA INTO ACTION
If you desire to become a talent-plus person in the area of relationships—a person whose rela-
tionships influence him or her in a positive direction—then here is what I suggest you do:
1. Identify the Most Important People in Your Life
Who are the significant people in your life, the people you spend the most time with, and the people
whose opinions mean the most to you?
These people are your greatest influencers. You need to identify who they are before you can as-
sess how they are influencing your talent.
2. Assess Whether They Are Influencing You in the Right Direction
Once you have identified the people who are influencing you, you would be wise to discern how
they are influencing you. The easiest way to do that is to ask the following questions about each
What does he think of me? People tend to become what the most important person in their lives
believes they can be. Think about small children. If their parents tell them they are losers, stupid, or
worthless, they believe they are. If their parents tell them they are smart, attractive, and valuable,
they believe they are. We embrace the opinions of people we respect.
Ralph Waldo Emerson asserted, “Every man is entitled to be valued by his best moments.” If you
want to be influenced in a positive direction, you need to spend time with people who think posi-
tively about you. They need to believe in you What does he think of my future? Novelist Mark Twain
advised, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” Do the most important people
in your life envision a positive future for you? Do they see great things ahead of you?
Margaret, my wife, has given me many wonderful gifts during the course of our relationship. One
that I cherish is the ministry log book she gave me the year before we were married, knowing that a
pastoral career was ahead of me. In it, I could record my activities such as sermon topics, wed-
dings, and funerals. It is a record of my life leading local churches. But I value it most for some-
thing she wrote in it in 1968. It said simply,
You’re going to accomplish great things.
Her few words weren’t poetic or profound, but they communicated her confidence in me and her
belief in my future. And she has demonstrated that belief in me every day of our marriage.
How does he or she behave toward me in difficult times? There’s an old saying: “In prosperity our
friends know us. In adversity we know our friends.” Haven’t you found that to be true? When times
are tough and you’re having difficulties, a friend who is influencing you in the right direction is . . .
When you get knocked down, good friends don’t kick you while you’re down or say, “I told you
so.” They pick you up and help you keep going.
What does he bring out of me? British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli observed, “The greatest
good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own.” That is
really the essence of positive relationships that influence people to rise up and reach their potential.
They see the best in you and encourage you to strive for it.
Author William Allen Ward remarked, “A true friend knows your weaknesses but shows you your
strengths; feels your fears but fortifies your faith; sees your anxieties but frees your spirit; recog-
nizes your disabilities but emphasizes your possibilities.” That’s what positive relationships should
3. If Your Friends Aren’t Friends, Then Make New Friends
If the people close to you are dragging you down, then it may be time to make some changes.
Speaker Joe Larson remarked, “My friends didn’t believe that I could become a successful speaker.
So I did something about it. I went out and found me some new friends!”
When you really think about it, the things that matter most in life are the relationships we de-
velop. As someone once observed,
You may build a beautiful house, but eventually it will crumble.
You may develop a fine career, but one day it will be over.
You may save a great sum of money, but you can’t take it with you.
You may be in superb health today, but in time it will decline.
You may take pride in your accomplishments, but someone will surpass you.
Discouraged? Don’t be, for the one thing that really matters, lasts forever—your friendships.²
Life is too long to spend it with people who pull you in the wrong direction. And it’s too short not
to invest in others. Your relationships will define you. And they will influence your talent—one way
or the other. Choose wisely.
Pick the relationship that matters most to you, and evaluate it. Write two columns: “What I Get” and
“What I Give.” Under each column, write all the benefits you receive from your relationship and all
the benefits the other person receives.
If the relationship is healthy, the two columns should balance each other.That doesn’t necessarily
mean they will have the same number of entries. Not all benefits are equal in value. Take that into
account. But if the two columns are out of balance, you will need to make adjustments to preserve
If you are the primary giver, then first ask yourself why. Second, make plans to step back and give
less. Sometimes the other person has just been waiting to step up and contribute more. If the other
person is the primary giver, consider how you can add more value to the relationship and take ac-
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