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ATD Blog

2 Effective Relationship-Building Strategies From Maryland’s Former Top General

Monday, May 23, 2022

While discussing the skills required to be a successful leader in today’s complex and fast-moving environment with former Maryland adjutant general Linda Singh, she and I agreed that one of the most critical skills a leader can have is the ability to create and maintain strategic relationships. This ability is important because whether you are engaged in negotiations, project management, crisis leadership, or any other leadership function, success relies on the relationship between the various parties. To help leaders build effective relationships, consider these strategies:

Strategy# 1: Building Relationships With Difficult People

When I asked Linda how she builds relationships with difficult people, she shared an interesting point. First, if the relationship is being developed to accomplish a specific goal, she reminds herself that she doesn’t need to like the person to work with them. This is an important point. Too many people believe that liking someone is a prerequisite to building an effective relationship.

I don’t like you, and you don’t like me. Great!

Even though liking the person you’re in a relationship with may be nice, it is far from required. Relationships can be built on many other foundations, such as a mutual respect, a common goal, or even a common enemy. Linda recommends investing the time necessary to find commonality when working with difficult people.


One of the most effective networking strategies I use when working with difficult people is to find something I value or respect about that person. I can respect their position, their level of influence, their life experiences, or their expertise. I can also value their thought process, the skills they bring to project, or the passion they exude when they stand their ground. The truth is, every person brings something of value to the project despite their likability. But, if you can’t find anything you value in that person, I encourage you to engage in some self-introspection by asking yourself why you are not able to find value or something positive in the person you seek to develop a relationship with. And, be honest with yourself.


Strategy #2: Choosing the Right Contacts

You will interact with hundreds, maybe thousands, of people every year. Unless you are a fortune teller, however, you have no way of knowing who can or will help you reach your career and personal development goals. Maybe it’s the executive who seems to receive a new award every other week on LinkedIn, the entry-level employee who reached out to you for career advice, or anyone else in-between. So, what do you do to find out who is the one? How do you know which person will have a profound impact on your life? How do you choose the right person so you can pour your valuable and limited time and energy into them?

Linda’s recommendation is simple: be respectful, kind, helpful, and present in every interaction. The person you’re speaking with may or may not be the one to change your life. But taking this approach will build your reputation as someone who values everyone regardless of their status. In addition, more people will want to meet you and help you reach your personal and professional development goals. And, do you know who likes to be valued? Yep, you guessed it correctly—everyone! If this sounds too sentimental, just remember that world-renowned experts on relationship building (Adam Grant and Rob Brown) have conducted extensive research on the topic and have found that it works! But, there’s a critical caveat. Although you should be respectful and present during every interaction, all interactions are not created equal. Click here to learn how and why you must prioritize the people and interactions in your life if you want to reach your career goals.

Moving On: Value Yourself and Your Time

A final strategy Linda shared aligns with the core of the 4C relationship building model. To hear Linda expand on this third strategy, listen to her full interview at

About the Author

Alex D. Tremble is an award-winning speaker, author, and expert in developing, navigating, and maintaining difficult, complex, and strategic, relationships. Additionally, Alex has over 10 years of experience coaching and advising some of our nation’s most senior level leaders, developing and facilitating organizational leadership developing programs, and is the host of The Alex Tremble Show. The Alex Tremble Show provides ambitious leaders with the leadership and career advancement skills required to excel as senior and executive leaders.

Alex began his career managing three government-wide senior leadership development programs, and quickly went on to establish the Tremble Influence Academy, while publishing two bestselling books ("Reaching Senior Leadership: 10 Growth Strategies Every Government Leader Should Know” and “The GPS Guide to Success”) geared towards helping leaders gain influence and attain career success. Alex is a Leadership Center for Excellence 40 under 40 honoree and also serves as the Chief Culture Officer for America’s second largest national conservation corps, American Conservation Experience. Alex is passionate and committed to helping our nation’s leaders reach their highest potential; personally, and professionally. Alex received his Bachelor's degree in sociology and psychology from William Penn University and his Master's degree in industrial and organizational psychology from the University of Baltimore. Please visit to gain the tools and strategies you need to reach your leadership and career goals.

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