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4 skills everyone should learn in their 20s to become leaders in their 30s

  • Soft skills speak volumes about your ability to be a leader.

  • By the time you turn 30, there are 4 key soft skills you should master.

  • These skills are active listening, servant leadership, effective communication, and emotional intelligence.

By the time you're blowing out the candles on your 30th birthday cake, most professionals have been working for a solid eight years. Throw in internships from college (remember those days?) — and you might have upwards of a decade of experience as you reach the end of the first third of your life. Gulp.

While you've likely been working tirelessly to learn an invaluable hard skill — coding computers, writing, strategy, analytics and so on — how do you measure up on the other half of your job performance?

Soft skills are not as discussed as technical proficiencies, but as career expert and entrepreneur Christopher Kingman explains, soft skills are related to the interaction between two or more people and speak volumes about your ability to be a leader.

Here, the indisputable soft skills you should have mastered by the time you reach the big 3-0:

1. Active listening

We all have someone in our lives — whether a treasured best friend or a parent or sibling — who just seems to "get you." No matter what earth-shattering or minuscule issue you're going through, what you need advice about or achievement you need to celebrate, he or she is fully present with an open heart — and ears. Kingman says these types of people have mastered the art of active listening.

While it might seem like anyone can do this, if they, ya know, listen — the keyword here is "active." He explains this method refers not merely waiting for your turn to throw in two cents in but listening with a purpose.

"This is listening with the intention of seeking to understand what the person is telling you with and without words," he continues.

To test if you've nailed this, Kingman says to pay attention the next time someone discusses something of importance with you. Instead of considering your response, stay right in the moment.

"Pay attention to the words, timing, cadence, pauses and emotion in how they speak. Once they are done, validate what they said, and repeat back their version of what they told you," he suggests. "If you really did hone in on words, timing, cadence, pauses and emotion, you'll be able to recount their story, and its impact clearly. Active listening is about ingesting and processing what people are saying, and demonstrating that their message resonates with you."

2. Servant leadership

Everyone has a different leadership style but others are more successful and accepted than others. For career expert Joy Altimare , managers are most effective when they direct with a mind towards servitude. As defined, it's a concept that suggests that true leaders understand the importance of the following characteristics as it relates to building and managing a loyal, high-performing team: listening, empathy, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

Altimare says this style composed of many soft skills is a refreshing, desirable quality. "It is important for leaders to go beyond their 'corporate values,' and become invested in encouraging an environment that supports performance, collaboration, and camaraderie," she adds.

3. Effective communication

This seems like a no-brainer, but it's surprising how poorly some people can communicate. Now, I'm not talking about varying degrees of vocabulary - despite what grade school made you believe, most people don't speak or write with complicated words. I'm talking about people's ability to convey a message, or to get to the point. The challenge with communication is that just like anything else it's a skill, one that gets stronger as you develop it. Kingsman explains that one of the false assumptions is that it is inherently a skill everyone has, but, expert communicators are those who get their message to listeners so they understand it.

"They do it directly, succinctly and with little meandering or wavering. Simply put, they get the point across," he adds.

To improve your communication skills, Kingsman has one very important tip that's easier than you think: pause. Much like your parents recommended you think before you speak when you were growing up, the same advice applies throughout your professional career, too. Kingsman suggests simply counting to three.

"You'd be surprised how many thoughts pass through our brains in three seconds, let alone the ways to say what you need to say," he continues. "When you leverage that pause, think to yourself, 'what am I saying?' and 'Will it be understood?' Being conscious of what you say and how you say it is the mark of a good communicator."

4. Emotional intelligence

Of all the skills to master before you enter your thirties, emotional intelligence is the most difficult and demanding, according to Kingsman. While it encompasses many aspects, Kingsman says, generally speaking, this is your ability to recognize and be aware of your emotions, others' emotions, and practicing empathy for them. Sometimes this is an easy task: crying indicates sadness, while smiling usually means happiness. But when you really develop your EQ, as Kingsman puts it, you have the foresight to dig deeper.

"Besides seeing and recognizing emotions, this skill helps us navigate social situations, make complex choices, and is arguably one of the key factors in our success," he explains. "We need smart people to do things like run electrical grids and design clean energy, we also need people to interact in meaningful ways. Having emotional intelligence, both being aware of your own emotions and others, helps bridge the gap between people and situations."

When you're able to pick up on the obvious and dubious signals people send, you're more likely to gain their trust, foster stronger connections and overall, be perceived as a thoughtful, sincere human.

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