Humility is the most elusive of virtues; the moment you think you’ve got it, you’ve lost it. Yet it’s also true that humility, like any other virtue, can be developed over time through consistent practice.

Although acting humble might not be the same as actually being humble, over time the two become indistinguishable. If you behave with humility often enough, and for long enough, eventually you will, in fact, become humble.

Here are four practical ways to incorporate the virtue of humility into your leadership style:

Learn someone else’s job. Over the next few months, learn the job of one person in your organization. That person might be a little uncomfortable at first. But as you explain what you’re doing and why, and demonstrate your earnest desire to learn—making it clear that you respect their expertise—two things will happen.

First, you’ll learn how important that particular function is and how it fits into the overall scheme of things. It might be more important than you ever imagined. Second, the person who’s teaching you will become more confident and competent, which also benefits everyone.

Practice empathy. The next time a subordinate comes to you with a problem, instead of just dismissing it or showing impatience, try a different approach. Listen carefully as they describe the problem, attempting to hear not only what they’re saying but also what they’re not saying.

Pay close attention to the person’s tone and body language to determine their frame of mind. Are they nervous? Anxious? Angry? Afraid? Given the issue, why would they feel that way? Try placing yourself in their position, as if you were on the other side of the desk.

Deflect praise. Anytime you receive praise for an accomplishment, think of all the other people involved in that success and give them credit for their contributions. Whenever possible, mention them by name and outline the specific roles they played.

That doesn’t mean being totally self-effacing. The point is not to play down your own role, in an “aw, shucks” kind of way; rather, you’re giving credit where credit is due—and recognizing that you’re not the only hard-working person in the organization.

Lead a service project. Selfless service is the ultimate expression of humility. Identify a project that would benefit the community or your organization. Then organize a group of volunteers to carry out that project during their off hours, soliciting donations of money and materials as needed.

Be clear that participation is purely voluntary and will not reflect on anyone’s job performance. Then participate in the project yourself, leading by example. You might even want to ask someone else to serve as group leader so that while working on the project, you’re just one of the gang and not the boss.

As you practice these suggestions, over time you’ll not only develop a reputation as a humble leader—you’ll actually begin to acquire humility. Just be careful not to brag about it. Then you’d have to start all over again.

By Rob Jenkins

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