Like many people, Foram Sheth had no idea what an organizational coach did before she met one in person. But after watching the coach work her magic with tense and stressed out co-workers, she was intrigued.
Now Sheth, 27, owns two coaching-related businesses and credits Northwestern University’s Organizational and Leadership Coaching Certification (OLCC) with helping her find her life’s passion.
Northwestern’s program was especially powerful, Sheth said, because she was able to work in the field before graduation, an experience that gave her newfound confidence.
“As a consultant I thought I always needed to provide a solution to be validated,” Sheth said. “As a coach, you don’t have to fix things yourself to be effective; you just need to be confident in what you know and your experience.”
Once mainly found on the sidelines of athletic fields, coaches are flourishing in the business world, helping people overcome mental, physical and emotional hurdles and creating a more fulfilling workplace. In the last decade, coaching has evolved from a “remedial fix” for performance issues to a powerful tool for developing future leaders, according to the 2016 Global Executive Coaching survey by Conference Board.
Northwestern’s Master of Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) program, housed in the School of Education and Social Policy, has been incorporating coaching into the curriculum since 2008, when program directors foresaw the value of coaching in the workplace.
To give students another option, the school launched the coaching certification program, which is grounded in the same research and theories as the full master’s program.
“Coaching is a fantastic avenue for learning and development, and it comes from a rigorous point of view,” said Michelle Albaugh, a leadership and performance coach and MSLOC faculty member who facilitates the OLCC program. “The Northwestern program doesn’t just offer the skills needed to coach; it includes academic theory and research around individual learning and change so students understand the ‘why’ behind what they do.”
Aimed at accomplished professionals, the Organizational and Leadership Coaching Certification is a year-long commitment that begins in March and includes four courses. The deadline for the March 2017 cohort is Jan. 10, 2017. Students can pursue the graduate certificate without relocating by using a blended learning format, or they can receive it in addition to the full master’s degree.
The coaching skills learned in OLCC can prepare people for a variety of coaching roles, such as development coaching and team coaching, but the program is grounded in individual performance coaching primarily within business and workplace contexts.
"Businesses know that coaching is one of the leading ways of developing top talent,” said MSLOC program director Kimberly Scott. “A good coach understands that making a difference depends on knowing how people learn and change.”
Classes are taught by MSLOC faculty who work in the field and can bridge theory and practice based on their own professional experiences. Two of the four required classes are the same ones taken by students pursing their master’s degree in learning and organizational change.
A key feature of the program requires students to network and find two people to coach during their final quarter of the program. Students also create a digital portfolio that can be used to build an online presence for their coaching practice.
“It’s important for students to be learning things they can directly put into practice as opposed to assignments that are only seen once by the instructors,” Scott said. “They start to find their own voice and own way of sharing things, both inside and outside the program.”
Digital competencies, meanwhile, allow people to participate in the online community and make their voices heard. “We want students to be leaders and contributors in these spaces.” Scott said.
More than one type of coach
The coaching certificate can be used in a variety of ways. Teresa Torres, a MSLOC alumna, is a product discovery coach, based in Portland, Oregon. She uses her coaching experience to help teams make better decisions by integrating customer interviews, prototype testing, and experimentation into how they develop products.
Torres said she often draws on the MSLOC curriculum, including the work of top experts in the field.
“I teach my clients to leave room for doubt and to prepare to be wrong,” she said. “And I teach them research methods that work on the fast timelines of digital product development while not falling prey to our cognitive biases.
“I wouldn't be the coach I am today without MSLOC,” Torres added. “I recommend it for anyone interested in coaching in any space that requires a comfort with uncertainty and ambiguity.”
Matthew Temple has coached both senior executives and emerging leaders as the director of alumni career and professional development for the Kellogg School of Management. He manages a team of eight people who deliver career and executive coaching to 50,000 alumni around the world.
“MSLOC has had a great influence on my individual approach,” Temple said. “It gave me an academic foundation, particularly around learning styles.”
But perhaps the biggest benefit, Temple said, was becoming part of the MSLOC community. “It’s great to have my fellow students and professors as sounding boards and colleagues. I have learned so much from them,” he said.
Sheth was working as a health care consultant when she enrolled in the MSLOC program and was inspired by the coaching aspects. She received her OLCC in 2016, promptly quit her job as a consultant in June and launched two businesses with partners. The first business, Genin Solutions, specializes in intergenerational dynamics and creating purpose-driven organizations; the second, Ama La Vida, is personal and professional coaching to help individuals love their life.
Both companies focus on helping people find their purpose and passion.
“Coaches are mirrors; they reflect 100 percent of you and parts you haven’t seen before,” Sheth said. “They focus on who you are today and where you want to be. They are the catalyst to help you reach your goals.”