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As we reach holiday season, we have less work load at present. In these days I have some professional hours left after completion of my actual work. At this situation I would like to invest that time qualitatively on any one of the below options

Option A: Working on refining my skill set or improve skills where I am weak. Specifically, I am interested in improving my leadership, communication or organization skills.

Option B: The other one is working on some thing which benefits my organization like working on creating new tools for the team which improves productivity, working on improvements of current organization website, etc. Currently our organization improving its internal site which needs some volunteers and my skill-set is in need.

The question is which one to choose?

If I choose option A, my skills and my productivity will improve which will attract more and better opportunities for me with in and outside the organization. My employer also will eventually see benefits of my new skills. How ever if I choose option B the organization will get benefited immediately. How can I justify choosing option A over option B?

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Is it right or wrong is not a constructive question. You could ask the question of how can i justify doing A over B. Or ask what the company gains when I do A. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 14:40
    
Are the choices from option B tasks that are already defined that need to be completed or just something you think you could do to help out that you feel is needed? I can justify A over B if the B tasks are not defined our asked for. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 14:42
    
Is there any way to take the work in option B and improve the skills mentioned in option A? –  JB King Dec 3 '12 at 23:21
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7 Answers

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Developing communication skills and leadership skills, it needs you to read books and learn new fundamentals. Basically gaining knowledge about these skills you can do it alone. How ever showcasing these skills and practicing these skills needs others support, you need team.

So choose and plan the role in those tasks where you can showcase and practice your communication and leadership skills. And your progress also visible to others. If you achieve good progress or some good results on those tasks you can show the evidence to your management, and get confidence of management and ask for better opportunities.

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First of all, why do these two need to be opposing choices? I can very well imagine a project which directly benefits your organization while at the same time allows you to acquire a new skill or refine an existing one. This would be the ideal solution as most organizations (somewhat understandably) are more oriented towards their own short term goals, rather than your long term goals. To be on safe ground, you need at least your boss's informal approval for self learning projects done in your normal work hours.

Collect ideas for option B and filter the list for projects which look exciting to you e.g. because you can learn something new related to them. Discuss these ideas with the persons involved, to get their support and agree on the rough solution. Then go to your manager and tell him/her something like this: "I thought I could use my free time to implement a tool to make life easier for the ... team who have been complaining about ... . We discussed that a simple solution built on the ... framework, using a ... DB would solve their problems. I assume I could implement this in about ... days and it would also allow me to learn more about technology ... which could come handy in the future, as I have heard rumors that project ... next year is going to need this."

To ensure success, you may want prepare two or more such project ideas to offer a choice between them to your manager. Thus (s)he can make the final choice based on business value for the company (and retain the feeling of being in control - which may be an important factor for some persons and some kinds of companies), but you too get what you are after.

Update

I want to improve on leadership or communication skills whee I need improvement. But the organisation have some initiatives which needs my technical abilities.

OK so the two options are actually contradicting. What is more, improving your leadership and organisation skills can hardly be done in isolation. Fair enough, you can read some books on it, but to get any actual practice you need to cooperate with others.

The other side of the coin is that even if you have read all the world's literature on these subjects, your management must acknowledge this for you to move forward in your career (a communication challenge for you :-) .

Both of these boil down to the conclusion that you need management support. So what I recommend is to share your time between the two options. Pick a project for Option B which can be finished in, let's say, half of your free time, then go to talk with your boss. You may introduce your idea similarly to the above, then add that you would like to use part of your remaining free time to improve your communication and leadership skills, and ask for his/her suggestions on this. Prepare some ideas yourself to avoid looking totally clueless, but the main point is to get his/her support, and to get your efforts channeled into your organization's leadership training programme (if there is one).

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In order to add more clarity I have added some more info to my question. Basically I want to improve on leadership or communication skills whee I need improvement. But the organisation have some initiatives which needs my technical abilities. There is the difficulty to choose –  Ramya Dec 3 '12 at 11:03
    
@Ramesh, please see my update. –  Péter Török Dec 3 '12 at 12:59
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In this situation, and given your question and comments you could:

  • Focus most of your attention on Option 'A' and train yourself. Your team will certainly benefit from your extended skill set and knowledge.
  • Spend some of your attention on Option 'B' by mentoring another individual to write the necessary tools rather than doing all the technical work yourself.

By executing this plan, you would learn new skills, teach another person some valuable knowledge, and deliver value to your team. This appears to be a win-win-win situation.

By the way, in his book First Things First, Stephen Covey introduces a four-quadrant matrix for importance and urgency (see figure below). It appears that both options you are suggesting appear in the non-urgent and important quadrant. This is a good sanity check to evaluate if you are spending your time on the right things.

enter image description here

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In my experience, many technical employees vastly under-rate the importance of soft skills as part of their longer-term career development, as well as the short term impact of these on their day-to-day roles.

These skills are often described as "highly transferable", in that the same skills can be applied in a range of organizations and careers. I know of several organizations that avoid soft-skills training for their employees for this very reason - they would rather invest in more specialized, less transferable skills, to boost employee retention.

I always value staff who want to develop their soft skills, as its often weaknesses in these areas that create the issue between staff, teams and departments that wind up being my problems to solve.

I also see a good knowledge of these skills distributed within a software team is vital to operating in a scrum/agile kind of approach, where significant organizational responsibility is devolved to the team and not retained by line management.

I would suggest in the first instance approaching your line manager, to discuss this, as without their buy-in you don't really have any choices. If this is something you have already identified as part of your performance reviews - or is addressing an area highlighted in your review process - then approaching them in this way should be successful.

There are many good starting points - from Covey's "Seven habits" through to looking at personality types and communication styles - and depending on the skills and experience of your manager they may be able to give you a steer.

If you will not be attending a formal course, then I'd suggest you will need a coach, sounding board or mentor to help cement any soft skills knoweldge. I run this in a "book club" format with several of my team members, which is proving very effectivee and is keeping me on my toes as well.

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Thanks for the edit, Chad! –  GuyM Dec 3 '12 at 22:53
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I would say go with Option A.

You will get plenty of time and opportunities in your company to work on your technical skills (you can do it on job, on company time & on companies dime) but that hardly is the case for soft skills.

You have some free time! That hardly happens! this is great :) Enjoy it by doing something that's fun!

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I do not think the OP is saying A will be more fun just that it is something he feels would benefit him more personally and professionally. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 16:44
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Be honest with yourself and decide which one you will make more of an effort. Also consider, what resources you have available for leadership and communication development. If you really struggle in these areas, I don't think you'll learn much from a book. You need to get opportunities to practice with others and get their feedback. Organization on the other hand, is something where simple techniques can go a long way.

Try working on your communication skills by reaching out to others to see what they really need. You may discover your personal projects won't be as beneficial as you think.

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Who is paying you for the time? Go with Option B. Personal devlopment outside the parameters of your job (or a potential job for your own employer) should only be done at work if there is literaly nothing you can do to benefit the organization. They are paying the bill, you should be providing a benefit to them.

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This is a comment not an answer. Because if it was an answer you would have explained why this was correct. –  Chad Dec 3 '12 at 15:20
    
No it's an answer, the company is paying for your time and that should be factored into the decision. This is in no way just a comment. –  HLGEM Dec 3 '12 at 15:21
    
The OP has "done his job" and is trying to find meaningful and worthwhile things to work on with some spare time that has landed in his lap. It really is up to him what to do with that time. He could clean the refrigerator, try to second-guess what tools/skills the team might want to have in the future or, perhaps, choose something which he definitely knows will help his career (eg work on communication/leadership). Perhaps the next time this free time comes around, he might choose to help sales with their work using his newly-honed communication skills? –  Angelo Dec 3 '12 at 17:16
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If the organisation has indicated these skills are needed/desired as a result of direct feedback to the employee as part of a review, or that lack of these skills has created an issue that the line manager has had to resolve, then this would include them inside the parameters for the role. –  GuyM Dec 3 '12 at 19:18
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@HLGEM - You have said what the right answer is but not explained why it is the right answer. It may seem obvious to many but unless it is explained it does not make a good answer here. Assume you are talking to someone who has never had to work and does not understand the concept. –  Chad Dec 4 '12 at 14:47
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