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Want to feel more significant at work? Lead what only you can lead

How Nora Ephron led, and why that matters for you.

4 min read


Nora Ephron

Ephron in 2011 (TechCrunch/Flickr)

Levels of workplace malaise have now reached epidemic levels. Gallup’s statistic of 70% of the workforce being disengaged has rang like a warning shot across the bows of companies around the world. And yet a lack of inspiration and feelings of insignificance at work rage on.  

Dear reader, it’s time for you to take the matter into your own hands. One of the best ways to do so is to set an immediate goal to lead what only you can lead. And that means even if it’s difficult. Ask yourself what you’re uniquely suited to lead or what unique contribution you could make – whether due to your position in the organization or based on your skills and passions.

Know what your “superpowers” are and commit to using those extreme strengths to make things worth happening, happen. Odds are, by the way, you’ll intuitively recognize what simply must be, and can only be, led by you.

It’s up to you to turn your intuition into an imprint.

Take the case of the late Nora Ephron.

Most know Ephron as an Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director of such films as “Sleepless in Seattle,” “You’ve Got Mail” and “Silkwood” (I believe “Sharknado” as well, but I could be wrong.)

Many know of Ephron as queen of the quips, a sharp and funny woman who wrote of her internship at the White House in 1961, “It has become horribly clear to me that I am probably the only young woman who ever worked in the Kennedy White House whom the President did not make a pass at.”

Not as many know that Ephron had a quiet plan to lead things of meaning which only she could lead.

In her 1996 Wellesley College commencement address, she noted that women of her generation weren’t expected to do much of anything. And yet Ephron set a standard for how successful women could be, in as many careers as they wanted.

She started her career as a wildly successful journalist and used that first standard-shaking breakthrough to do more of the same. Ephron would go on to become a successful essayist, novelist, blogger, playwright, and producer in addition to her brilliant screenwriting career.

Leveraging such phenomenal widespread success, she set out to become a director, one who could yet again serve as a role model for women trying to break into male dominated industries. But more importantly, she knew that becoming a director would give her a powerful platform. She could use this platform to create roles for women as important and interesting as those that men regularly get — a struggle that still rages in Hollywood today.

As Ephron herself put it in a documentary about screenwriters breaking into Hollywood:

“Most directors, I discovered, need to be convinced that the screenplay they’re going to direct has something to do with them, and this is a tricky thing if you write screenplays where women have parts that are equal to or greater than the male part. You look at a list of directors and it’s all boys; it certainly was when I started as a screenwriter. So, I thought, I’m just going to become a director and that’ll make it easier.”

Publicly and privately, Ephron made a life of leading things she knew she was in a unique position to lead. It became known later in her life that she put tremendous energy into mentoring women (and men) to achieve greatness in a multi-pronged way. She mentored women such as actress, writer, producer, and director Lena Dunham, and did so even while she was quietly fighting an illness that would ultimately take her life.

Ephron knew of her responsibility to use her unique talents to lead, without excuse. As she closed out in her Wellesley commencement address, “Above all be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

Shards of glass ceilings are still strewn everywhere today because Nora Ephron led what she knew she uniquely could.

You can do the same, in your own way. What only you can do.


Scott Mautz is a keynote speaker and author of “Find the Fire: Reignite Your Inspiration & Make Work Exciting Again.” He’s a Procter & Gamble veteran who successfully ran several of the company’s largest multi-billion-dollar businesses, and an adjunct professor at Indiana University. To learn more about Mautz or to connect with him on social, visit

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