You're listening to conversations with international professionals, where we discover the challenges and rewards of communicating across language, culture and leadership. We are sponsored by leadinenglish.com, your official site for mastery, clarity, impact, narrative. Where you can get 32 coaching sessions to up your game, and deliver results in no time. Now, here is your host, Vince Varallo.
Vince Varallo 0:34
Welcome, everybody. It's exciting to be here today. And my guest is Rangam Bir, he and I have been in a coaching relationship for quite some time now. So excited that Rangam to have you with us today and share your thoughts with our listeners, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Rangam Bir 0:51
Hey, Vince! First of all, hello to everyone. And I am really excited to be part of this podcast. We know each other for a long time. And I have been very fortunate to go through an excellent engaging communication journey together with you. About myself, I have been an international business leader for around 26 years now, I originally come from India, but I've worked in various different parts of the world, including the Middle East, Europe, Asia, China, and also have had business relations in the US. So I would say I'm pretty international. As a leader, I have spent a lot of time in the insurance and financial services business. And I would say over the last 14 to 15 years, I have really had a very senior management roles, senior leadership roles, including as CEO of many businesses, and working together with the senior leadership teams of various different businesses that I've been associated with.
Vince Varallo 1:59
Very exciting and what great experience you have. And one of the things we're doing with international professionals as they're working across language and culture, we're asking them to kind of share their journey with us. So you know, on the front end, that's who you are, how did you get to this position in your life, share with us a little bit about your journey,
Rangam Bir 2:21
One of the things that I certainly believe what has been instrumental in helping me get to where I am today has been about taking risks, and taking risks in a whole range of different areas, whether that's taking a risk in my career, whether it's taking a risk in terms of the people that you choose to work together with, and just getting out of your comfort zone. And that also obviously requires you to be very comfortable working in various cultural contexts in various diverse environments. And there's a risk associated with that itself, whether you're able to succeed or fail, I would really highlight that as probably the one singular biggest factor for me to always define my next step, and go beyond my own personal comfort zone, and take on a challenge and whatever the associated risk that goes with it. And that is something when I coach and mentor younger leaders, I always encourage them to really take on risk and get out of their comfort zone, because that's when magic happens. And that's when you can actually do very different interesting innovative things, which actually then propels your career forward.
Vince Varallo 3:41
That's very interesting. And one of the things that we're doing is recognizing communication skills that senior leaders need as they're working across language, culture, and leadership. And you sort of embody all of that. You had mentioned cultural differences in that when you described risk, it's kind of a primary career motivator for you. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey and language, cultural differences that you've faced and how it's helped you get to where you are today as a leader,
Rangam Bir 4:16
Certainly. Having actually worked various different cultural contexts. As I mentioned earlier, I've worked in Europe, I've lived in Asia, what you recognize is that culture is at the heart of how we communicate. There is of course, also two other elements beyond culture. What I would like to point out, one is context. And the third element is comfort and confidence which come together. Now from a cultural aspect. What I recognize through my career, through my journey is the communication framework that one adopts when communicating, let's say in North America versus continental Europe, and I've worked for a long time with continental European businesses. So I spent a long time in Germany myself, there is a fundamental difference in the way communication actually happens. And being able to recognize those cultural differences and reflect that in the way you communicate, and you flex your style, one of the things that we have spoken about which I really loved is flexing the style and understanding your audience. And then calibrating, adjusting your communication to reflect the expectations of your audience, I think is something that you learn. And that really also comes from a very deep understanding of cultural differences in different contexts. And they show up in various different ways.
In Asia, people tend to be much more respecful of seniority, they wouldn't openly demonstrate disagreement. In continental Europe, people value consensus in communication, rather than a very individual opinion, where you express your personal views. And you certainly speak out, which is highly appreciated from a North American context. You definitely see all of these cultural influences in a way impacting communication. And I think the success for any leader, especially as you progress up your career is how do you recognize and understand that cultural influence? And how do you reflect that in the strategy that you adopt?
Vince Varallo 6:24
You said something interesting, and I'd love for you to follow up on it, I think our listeners are going to be somewhat surprised, not so much about the context and cultural differences, exciting that you've been in Europe, and now you're a very strong leader in Asia. So great experience. But you also mentioned comfort and confidence. And it's often assumed that for somebody on your level, that the comfort and confidence is there. And I'm kind of curious, as you just described, the role culture plays, but about language, share with us a little bit about comfort and confidence also working in English.
Rangam Bir 7:01
We sometimes take comfort and confidence for granted. But what I've recognized is the leadership journey is a journey. And you start off, especially for new leaders, you would tend to operate in a much more operational environment in a much more familiar environment, where the context is really dealing with either your own teams, subordinates, certain business partners, and less so of, let's say, a multicultural environment. So certainly, in early stages of your career, your communication might follow a very one dimensional approach. And you might be very comfortable in that context in that approach. But the moment you move into a different setting into a different role, where you're engaging with a much broader audience outside of your regular context of your comfort zone, then immediately you are in an unknown environment, and to build up comfort in that environment to build up confidence in that environment is something that is not necessarily natural, it is something that needs to be built. And it's something that you as a leader in your career journey. It's something that you need to reflect on. It's something that you need to work on. And you can take some very regular strategies as part of building that comfort level. And it can as well start off with having regular touchpoints. With some of the people you communicate on a regular basis, rather than having a very ad hoc communication. It's all about building relationships. I know we have spoken about how do you use communication also as a platform to build relationships and investing that time into building relationships, establishing a regular rhythm in communication, also adopting different channels of communication. I mean, we are very privileged to be living at a time when we can have video calls, we can go beyond the regular phone calls, obviously, you have messaging, you have emails and a range of different tools. So you're leveraging all of those channels of communication to further strengthen your confidence and build a certain level of comfort, creating your own authentic style and identity in the way you communicate your messages. I think all of those elements go into building a level of comfort and confidence that only grows as you make progress along your career journey a few years down the line that comes very naturally but for young leaders who are beginning that journey that can be quite intimidating.
Vince Varallo 9:40
You know when you and I first met it was at a very interesting time because you for many years had been a CEO of a major company in Malaysia and when you and I met you are now going to be interacting with C suite executives, who were all native speakers of English. You've just kind of described the context and the challenges that one faces, could you get a little specific about what your challenges were working now, with native speakers of English and your peers, they're not reporting to you, and they're your colleagues, and what kind of adjustments did you need to make. And if you can just share with us some of those challenges.
Rangam Bir 10:28
Here, I would say culture played a very important role. Because the biggest contrast came for me when moving from one cultural context to the other. As a classic example, from a continental European perspective, I had built up over time, a very deductive style of communication, what you would describe as a story person versus a point person, to where you go through the rationalization and the logic of the issue that you're discussing till you come to a well deduced conclusion, and then transitioning to more point form of communication, the inductive form of communication, where you really start off the communication, highlighting the key messages that you want to articulate and really being very certain of the two or three key messages that you want to get across. And then depending upon the context, you're taking that effort to elaborate that further, you know, sometimes some of those key messages might be very obvious, and they might no longer need any elaboration. But in certain other context, they might do so. So that switch, I think, was a key. The other aspect that I really had to work on was to make sure, in order to be able to deliver clarity of the message, obviously, you need to lay out your message very clearly upfront. But then you need to avoid getting into a very lengthy or repetitive explanation. That was something that we worked together on. And further, what I realized is to deliver the impact, because clarity leads to impact. And in order to deliver that impact, what is important is to really make the conversation more personal, more visual, without necessarily making it very long winded and lengthy. But that visualization creates impact, I think is something that was very impactful for me in our discussions, and certainly helped me change the way that I approached communication, even after many years of experience.
Vince Varallo 12:48
So let me stop you for a second. And visualization is a strong communication point and one that I have found to be very challenging, not just for non native speakers of English, but even for native speakers of English. Describe a little bit what it means. In terms of visualization, we all have different triggers in our mind that go off when you use that word, what exactly do you mean to be a little more visual. And remember, the context now is in front of senior level executives, who are native speakers, now your peers, not your subordinates.
Rangam Bir 13:25
Visualization can take place in several different forms. Frankly, it can be emphasizing a point with a particular story or an experience, which really highlights or brings home the point very clearly, I mean, you can have a very technical explanation on a particular issue that you're trying to lay out. But if you then put it into the context of a real life experience that you underwent, or you had an experience of and just narrate that story with the emphasis of the message coming out of it, which really reiterates the point that you're trying to make is an important visualization. But what makes a big difference in my mind is making it authentic, really relating it to a very personal experience and emphasizing the point through that personal experience. I think it's an important visualization tool.
Vince Varallo 14:19
And can you share with us some type of example scenario that demonstrates visualization. I know our audience is very interested in this exact topic, and it can be so elusive. So can you share with us? Putting you on the spot here a little bit. But can you share with us?
Rangam Bir 14:39
I'd be more than happy to be put on the spot on this one. There's one story that immediately comes to my mind. I'm a big passionate believer in simplification. And in one of the organizations that I was leading, I was actually presenting a strategy to the senior leadership team on the impact of simplification. Now simplification can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. But in this particular context, the story that I use to visualize simplification was the experience of 20 being so much bigger than 250. And it was in the organizational context, we had over 250 products that we were selling. And my strategy recommendation was to reduce the number of products to 20. And what was important was actually, this was highlighted by one of the members of my team, who just was able to demonstrate how much effort, how much resources, how much time is required to manage, and service a portfolio of 250 products, that our customers are essentially buying five products, five products constituted 80% of our sales. And with the 20 products, we could actually cover all the needs of our customers, rather than have a portfolio of 250 products, being able to narrate and visualize that experience to demonstrate that these 20 products generate higher value, higher margins, higher revenues, and higher profitability, vs 250 was a great way to visualize the concept of simplification, and really the impact that came out of it. Because you know, sometimes we just believe more is better. And you know, the more products we can offer our customers generates much more confidence, generates higher sales. But that is not necessarily always true.
Vince Varallo 16:55
Wow. So following your train of thought here, you started with, and before I asked you to create a visual story, you started with simplification. And that's one of those things you tell people simplification is an important part of the process. And maybe they retain that maybe they don't, but then you I love the process that you use, you took an example, and you named it. And that's really step one, and the name of it was 20 Is bigger than 250. And that is something I'll remember, I'll remember the title of your example. So now you've created the process of visualization. And then you showed it from the perspective of your customer. And that then implanted an image in my mind with the 80%, you know, occupying the five products, and then leading very logically to let's just stay with 20, I will remember that story, because of the way in which you framed that. And you've been using language that I think our audience is very interested in it, you said, clarity leads to impact. And then you're supporting the impact with examples that are visual in nature. Very exciting. Were you able to do that successfully with your C suite executives, as you embarked on that particular journey? Share with us that.
Rangam Bir 18:25
Certainly. It was not something that came naturally, it was a change. But I also believe that every successful leader is able to learn and grow and establish their own style. And for me, this was an important change as part of my leadership journey. And I do look at myself as being a very growth oriented leader and growth oriented leaders would tend to always look at opportunities for learning. And this, for me, was a great learning experience. And I certainly would say that this is something that I have incorporated in a lot of my communication, especially in some very strategic communication settings, where I'm engaging with very senior leaders. And this is a very effective communication tool. Obviously, you need to work with that. It's a process of building that to become integral as part of your communication repertoire and strategy. But once you get there, it is immensely effective and immensely satisfying. It certainly delivers a lot of impact,
Vince Varallo 19:40
Following up on your ideas of authenticity and leaders finding their own examples. And now of course, we're talking about narrative and creating your narrative. And we've often called that the leadership piece, but I also find it interesting that in order to get to that authenticity and finding your own strengths and who you are. There's a lot of actually technical learning that goes on in able to foster that. And I think sometimes that's missing for people to understand that those realms of upper level communicators across language, culture and leadership, there's a lot of technical learning that goes on to be able to perform at that level.
Rangam Bir 20:25
Absolutely. And that's where I think what I certainly encourage leaders and people who I work with as part of my team, I do encourage them to really spend time understanding their own communication so that they know what are their strengths, what are their weaknesses, and then calibrate their communication, strategize the communication, according to the context, the setting, their own comfort, levels, confidence, and leverage on using certain communication tools and strategies. And once people start looking at it from that perspective, then they also recognize what are the tools and strategies they feel comfortable using, what tools and strategies can be used in different scenarios, in different settings. And that helps then people build a portfolio of tools that they can kind of lean back on in different situations. And it is very important. So this is something that I definitely encourage all leaders at all levels to use. And an added dimension that I would put in there, which I always encourage leaders to have is to seek out feedback. You know, identify mentors, identify coaches, people who you can trust people who will give you the right kind of feedback, you should also be, of course, ready to receive that feedback. Because that's very much part of that growth mindset, you know, that you developed as you develop your career. But having people who you can talk to get feedback from and perspective, I think has been something that I have relied on personally in my career. And I've had the good fortune of really working together with exceptional leaders who have contributed their time who have contributed their experience, and provided me feedback and perspectives that have really shaped the way I have grown as a leader. And as a communicator.
Vince Varallo 20:35
You know, and from a coaching perspective, as we kind of draw to a conclusion here, that feedback. What I really like to do in providing feedback in this level of communication, is to find people's strengths, what are they good at, and then go get great at them. And I do not mean to say that we shouldn't concentrate on the areas that we can improve upon, yes, we can get better at certain things. And no one should shy away from that level of feedback. But that authentic voice that you have referred to several times, comes from what you already good at. And now go get great at it. And I think that level of feedback serves the senior level population very, very well.
Rangam Bir 23:21
It absolutely does. Fully agree with you on that. And that is part of building up that comfort and confidence because you're coming from a space, which is very familiar, that is something that you feel positive about yourself, that is an area which you know, is a strength of yours, and you're building off that strength. That obviously gives you that comfort, a confidence. And it allows you to further then strengthen it with added inputs, added tools, added inputs that you bring into your communication, and it only helps you get better. But you're really coming from a position of strength.
Vince Varallo 23:55
And I'll give one quick example of it. And really, this is let's say somebody's strength is being thorough, they are very thorough in their communication. And so let's keep that, let's build that. And let's learn to be thorough, in concise structures. Now, there's your technical learning right there. We're staying with what you're good at, we're not changing that. But we're going to do it in a way that allows you to express that strength in a package that's well received by the audience.
Rangam Bir 24:28
Absolutely. That's so well put. And being thorough really is a very important part of communication. This this is something that I think all good communicators adopt, being prepared. For me, being thorough is actually being prepared, knowing what you're going to be communicating what is that message that you want to get across? And knowing that message that you want to get across also comes from a position that you know your audience. And it's all part of that preparation which leads you to being thorough. And it's a very, it's a very technical way of planning and strategizing your communication, and being able to edit and sharpen your messages so that you are concise, but not brief that you don't get all your messages across. I think it takes a lot of effort. It is not, it's not, never to be underestimated.
Vince Varallo 25:24
You know, I'm so thrilled that you've taken this time to spend with me and with our listeners, any final remarks that you'd like to make before we sign off?
Rangam Bir 25:34
A few things from my side, and it's kind of just coming back to the points that we've discussed to this to this conversation. Culture plays a very important role in communication, understand the cultural context, it makes you a great bottom line communicator, keep communication authentic. If it is authentic, it reflects your personal style it reflects your personal experiences, and it helps you deliver the necessary impact in your communication and impact of communication also comes through visualizing your personal experiences, which feed into the narrative so that it ultimately leads to you know, clarity leads to impact leads to narrative as something I know, is very much something that we have spoken about. And those would be the last concluding messages on my part.
Vince Varallo 26:27
Rangam, thank you so much for spending this time and I know that you and I will talk soon down the road.
Rangam Bir 26:33
Thanks, Vince. It was my pleasure.
Thank you for listening to today's episode of conversations with international professionals. If you have an interest in the MCIN course or want to take the free assessment, visit us at leadinenglish.com