One of our main priorities at Smart City is our people. We focus on our people because we know that it’s them who truly drive the organization and make it what it is. This Veteran’s Day, we wanted to take the opportunity to highlight one of our people and a key leader, Nathan Lenahan. He has been with Smart City since 2019 and is currently transitioning from our full-time COO into an Advisory position. Without him, Smart City wouldn’t be what it is today.
Nathan was born into a military family with six siblings, four of whom also served. Although a military career wasn’t his set expectation, Nathan enlisted in the Army just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and ended up serving two tours in Iraq from 2003-2006.
By his early twenties, Nathan was already leading a team in combat as a Staff Sergeant. All of the team’s successes and failures landed on his shoulders. He recalls, “it’s just crazy, like, the amount of trouble I got into because someone on my team got in trouble. It really builds this idea of extreme ownership.” Despite the pressure that accompanied such a great responsibility, he’d discovered his niche and lifelong passion –– leadership.
Following his time in Iraq, Nathan served eight years in the National Guard as a certified Army Leadership Instructor and a Platoon Sergeant, and used his experience to teach young soldiers how to be first-time leaders. After this, he decided to separate from the military and transition into life as a civilian.
Nathan credits entering the civilian workforce as one of the hardest things he’s ever done, thanks in part to the demoralizing feeling of transitioning from being a seasoned, well-respected leader in the military to entry-level customer service provider earning just $11 an hour. He explains, “you go from leading large teams and large budgets and doing these things that feel really meaningful, to just feeling kind of worthless.” He quickly left his customer service role and sought out greater opportunities by going back to school. This, ultimately, was one of the best decisions he made for his career as it led him to starting his own company, and later, taking on a leadership role at WeWork.
It’s important to recognize that going from the military to a civilian career is not an easy transition, regardless of rank. Whether you’re a Vet looking to find your place as a civilian or are simply looking to make an impactful career change, Nathan suggests that choosing the right organization is critical because not every company or culture will be the right fit. After his time at WeWork, Nathan was drawn to Smart City’s woman-led, people-first approach and the opportunity to serve at a growing organization.
Nathan joined Smart City during our transition from a small start-up to a rapidly growing, national organization. Naturally, the high level of growth came with an abundance of tough decisions, discomfort, and turnover. This environment, for many, would be an extremely daunting place to begin a new role, but not for Nathan.
He looks back on this time period saying, “I think my first 30 days, I did 99 one-on-ones. I had 27 pages of notes just listening, talking, trying to figure out the themes of how we make this better. How do we stop some of the whiplash? How do we make sure that you’re getting the training you need? How can we be more transparent and upfront with people?…It just felt so easy and natural, I think, in so many ways”.
Through various experiences during his time in the military, Nathan fine-tuned his ability to listen and lead with good intentions, equipping him to process the immediate feedback from those 99 one-on-ones and put Smart City’s people first during his entire tenure as COO. “I always loved listening first, and I found that it set me up really well. Not only do I listen, I communicate as well as I possibly can to the team to make sure that they know we have a shared vision and we’re going to do our best”.
On this Veterans Day, we recognize and thank Nathan for his service, and the experiences that have shaped him into the leader he is today. Although he is ending his chapter as our COO, we know that he’ll never stop leading our people.
Thank you to those who have served this country. Today and every day, we honor, respect, and show gratitude for your journey.