Being Sarah Nahm: A Day in the Life of a Software CEO
Many people have a stock image in their mind of a Chief Executive Officer—smart haircut, crisp modern attire, big corner office, cutting-edge technology, maybe a tasteful European watch. But what does a CEO actually do in a regular work day?
Sarah Nahm is the CEO at Lever, a software company in San Francisco that’s building modern talent software to help companies power their next-generation recruiting. For Nahm, a typical day is shaped by a series of highly intentional interactions with her team. Some of these are scheduled, some are serendipitous, all are crafted to prime her employees, and therefore her company, for success.
Nahm’s day begins a little after 8 a.m., when she heads to the common area for a cup of coffee, and to put in the first bit of work cultivating those interpersonal connections that enable her to know, understand, and lead her team. A casual coffee chat in the morning can facilitate the kind of comfortable, candid rapport that is so valuable when serious decisions need to be made.
Nahm considers herself a “designer CEO,” carefully building what she calls “a seamless user experience” for her employees and an environment that enables them to have “the biggest impacts that they can.” For Nahm, leadership is all about empowerment. Her MO as a CEO is to “paint a picture of where we need to be and actually trust the rest of the team to step into that and make that a reality.”
What follows, as the day progresses, is very often a series of conversations. She might be meeting with Lever’s design team to pick a name for a new feature, or with the accounting team to go over this quarter’s numbers. There will also be lots of one-on-one conversations, but rather than sit across a desk, Nahm likes to bring those meetings out into the wilds of San Francisco. “You can really mix it up,” she says, “by taking a walking one-on-one and getting a little sunshine and maybe some coffee, maybe get a different perspective by shifting, literally, where you’re at.”
Onboarding days, which happen once a month, find Nahm leading Lever’s “Ramp Camp” program, where she welcomes new hires and asks them to share something of who they are, what motivates them, and what they hope to accomplish at Lever. She also participates in the crafting of unique, whimsical GIFs, each one created to welcome a specific new employee to the company.
At the end of the day, around 5 p.m., Nahm has a ritual that her employees call “the wander”—a casual stroll around the office to chat with employees and get an informal debrief on their working day.
Truly successful leadership is never easy, of course, but Nahm makes it sound simple: “At the end of the day, I am connecting all the human potential here at Lever to the most meaningful work that we can be doing. I take that really seriously, and it’s what gets me up in the morning. It’s what gets me excited every day.”