“I’m facing one of my biggest fears today,” Veronica January said as she opened her remarks at Lowe’s 2015 Women’s Leadership Dinner.
When January, then a store manager, agreed to participate in the event – part of the Lowe’s annual National Sales Meeting that brings together store and omni-channel leaders to learn more about company priorities – she thought she would be working behind the scenes, in her comfort zone. She never thought she would be speaking in front of more than 400 people, let alone sharing her Lowe’s journey.
That journey started nearly 20 years ago when January, a single parent of two children, joined a Lowe’s store in California. “I wasn’t sure what to expect on that first day, but I immediately felt at home,” she said.
January quickly worked her way up to an assistant store manager. And, by listening intently and learning from her store leaders, team and customers, it wasn’t much longer until she was promoted to store manager – a position she thrived in for more than 16 years.
This experience taught January that listening to others could accelerate her growth. So, when she was selected to participate in the 2014 Vice President of Store Operations (VPSO) Collaboration program, a six-month mentorship program that pairs female store managers with regional leaders across the U.S. to discuss work, leadership and life, she saw it as an opportunity to expand her horizons even further.
The VPSO Collaboration program was designed to support female store managers and help them succeed. It was also created to help Lowe’s regional leaders better understand the unique challenges women may face when working in stores, so they can better support female employees in their own regions and think about leadership in new ways.
Now in its third year, Lowe’s VPSO Collaboration program has helped more than 40 women like January hone their leadership capabilities while simultaneously providing VPSOs with new perspectives.
When January joined the program, she was paired with Donald McMichael, a VPSO based in Seattle. She remembers being nervous for that first call.
“Don calmed my nerves right away,” she said. “The first thing he said was, ‘This is not just about you; it is about me as well. I want to help you grow, but I have some growing to do, too. I need your help and advice with improving the customer experience in my region.’ ’’
After that, January said McMichael had a hard time getting her off the phone. He became her go-to contact for advice, and they valued each other’s insights.
Lowe’s VPSO Collaboration program has helped more than 40 women like January hone their leadership capabilities while simultaneously providing VPSOs with new perspectives.
When McMichael asked what he could do to help January, she shared that she had a fear of speaking in front of large groups. And she knew it was inhibiting her growth. So, when January began to prepare for the women’s leadership event, McMichael wanted to make sure she didn’t fade into the background.
“Don shared a story about his mother. He said she worked so hard, for long, long hours each day, just to put food on the table. But she never whispered a word; she never spoke up for herself. And because of that, all her hard work was never recognized,” January said. “Don said, ‘So many women have done that. But the fact is, you can’t be quiet or hide behind the scenes. You have a story to tell.’ ”
This conversation gave January the push she needed to take the stage at the Women’s Leadership Dinner. And when she did, something amazing happened: People listened, and January captivated the crowd.
The experience gave January the self-assurance she needed to challenge herself. So much so that in September 2015, she was promoted from store manager to market director. She now oversees 14 stores in California and has the opportunity to share her story with more people and in other arenas, including through women’s leadership events in her own market.
Roxsan Dibene, a field service manager and colleague, added that upon hearing January’s story, participants “take some of Veronica’s confidence and say ‘I can do it.’ ”
“When I first started the VPSO Collaboration program, I didn’t know what to expect,” January said. “But now I couldn’t imagine where I’d be without my conversations with Don. What I learned in six months will stay with me for a lifetime.”