What are some small steps leaders can take to become more empathetic?

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Director of IT in Software, 201 - 500 employees
Start by asking employees how they are doing. When you see them around the office, don't just say, "Hi," and move on. Have a meaningful conversation; you get to know something about everybody that way. It doesn't have to be about anything specific, but you do need to be genuine. It's not about running through a script. There are some people that I see every day and they ask the same questions, just to be nice.

It’s important to listen with care, especially if someone’s telling you about their personal life, because you can't fake it. People will know if you're just nodding and your mind is somewhere else. They need to know that you care about them on a human level. If they're on your team and you don't care about them, then something is wrong; either you or your team are in the wrong position. You can't solve all their personal problems, of course, but you need to care. Otherwise, what's the point?
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Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees

An important caveat is that they have to have these conversations without talking about the weather or sports, because that is just scripted dialogue that doesn’t build any genuine connection.

Global CIO & CISO in Manufacturing, 201 - 500 employees
There are a couple things you can do but the first step is to purposely make time to connect with people. I block time outside of my one-on-ones and team meetings, so that I can ping people and say, "Hey, do you want to hop on a call?" The second step is finding good topics: Try to get a bit more personable. Ask things like, "What did you do this weekend? What movies did you see?" Then, when people aren't feeling well, you can tell that something’s off based on what you know from previous conversations.

It's about showing an interest in that person. If there’s something that they wanted me to do, like create a core set of courses or recommend helpful websites, then I block time to get that done. Intention is key. You have to do these things with the intent of caring and being supportive, etc.
Senior Executive Advisor in Software, 10,001+ employees
For people who struggle with showing their humanity within the organization, I would say to start extremely small. I encourage folks to do random acts of kindness, which could be small gestures that nobody expects. Do it to get the feeling of satisfaction that comes from having helped someone. Then you will start learning to do more and more of it. Whenever I talk to some of the C-suites and other leaders within organizations, I tell them to try this random act of kindness challenge because in a whole year you just have to do one small, unselfish thing for someone who never expected it. That will increase the amount of empathy within your entire organization and you'll start seeing people give more than they take. It changes the dynamic within the workforce when you do something as simple as buying a box of donuts for the break room, or pinging someone randomly to say, "Hey, don't want a project status. Just want to know how you're doing. How are your people doing?" You have to preface those check-ins up front because when you reach out to someone, they immediately think they've made some mistake. But if you establish from the outset that you genuinely want to know about how they are feeling, that will make a lot of difference.

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Director of IT, Self-employed
One thing I do is include them in the meetings about the changes that will take place and get their opinion.  I also lay out the pros and cons of the changes and how it will effect us as a team moving forward.

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