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Aldo Murillo

Be honest. How many of those career goals you set last New Year's did you actually achieve? Even the best of us are likely to have fallen short, but a new survey says men and women fail for different reasons.

Women set tougher career goals and care more about achieving them than men, but at the same time, women are more likely to let them slide, according to the study released Tuesday by Leadership IQ, a Washington, D.C.-based training company.

The differences are small but consistent and, because of the size of the survey, are significant, said Mark Murphy, the company's chief executive officer and author of Hard Goals: The Secret to Getting from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be.

The study was based on questionnaires filled out by 4,690 men and women in professional careers, 7 per cent of them Canadian.

"Obviously everyone is not the same and the objective was not to create gender stereotypes, but the results point to tendencies that could create frustration and hinder people from achieving their career, and personal, goals," Mr. Murphy said in an interview.

Women were at least 5 per cent more likely to say they had a strong emotional connection to their career goal.

The reason for putting off action may be because of a third finding: Men were as much as 5 per cent more likely to say they visualize their goals "so clearly they could literally draw a picture of it for someone else."

"It appears women are not painting as clear a mental picture of what it would look like to achieve their goals and that may result in less urgency," Mr. Murphy said. "Of course there may also be other factors ... It's entirely possible that women face more multitasking responsibilities and more things on their agendas which make it more difficult to make longer-term goals a priority."

His advice, for men and women alike, is to take time while thinking about and setting career goals for the new year. "There is a tendency to become shortsighted and narrow-minded when the economy gets bad. If your goals don't aim for greatness, they can't achieve great results," he said.

Goals should be things you personally believe will make you feel better and more capable, he added. "Having a personal connection to the outcome adds a strong sense of urgency. You need to have more to aim for than what someone else wants you to do and more motivation than anxiety."

Managers, meanwhile, should set goals for their staff that are easy to visualize and achievable. "Executives should have goals for the organization ... For instance, designing and producing a specific new product, or adding 1,000 new customers, rather than a vague goal of improving market share," Mr. Murphy said.

He said the best corporate goals should have an emotional element. "You want to be able to say 'This is going to feel amazing when we get there.' If the CEO feels it, others are going to feel the connection, too."



Here are suggestions from training company Leadership IQ based on gender differences uncovered in its study:

Advice for women

Create a picture: Through drawings or visualization, women can benefit from spending more time envisioning exactly what they'll see when they reach their goal.

No excuses: It's important to set a deadline at the same time as the goal, and avoid being tempted to put off taking action because of more pressing issues.

Check in with yourself: Women can achieve more urgency by getting into the habit of selecting one thing they can do each day that will get them closer to their goal.

Advice for men

Light your fire: Pursuing a goal without a deep emotional commitment can lead to wavering. Whether the commitment is external or personal, men should ask themselves "Why should I really care about achieving this goal?"

Raise the bar: If men find their goals aren't stretching their minds (and helping them leave their comfort zone), they should increase their goals' difficulty.

Become accountable: Sharing goals with a family member or colleague who will check back regularly encourages men to work toward their goals.