MSLOC at 15: How Coaching Changed Tamika Pumphrey

MSLOC at 15: How Coaching Changed Tamika Pumphrey

Tamika Pumphrey

Coaching is one of the things Denver-based consultant Tamika Pumphrey (MS17) loves most about her work.  But Pumphrey wasn’t sure what organizational coaching even meant when she enrolled in Northwestern University’s Master’s in Learning and Organizational Change (MSLOC) program.

In this interview, part of the MLSOC 15th-anniversary series, Pumphrey explains how she found the Organizational and Leadership Coaching Certificate Program (OLCC), the surprising health benefits of listening, and why she believes people are the key to success on any strategic initiative. (Read the full series here.)


You describe yourself as a lifelong learner. How has that affected your career path?

I started out in marketing, shifted to product development, then went into various layers of managing the software development lifecycle. But I learned that people are the most complicated and interesting pieces of my work, so I shifted my consulting focus to change management initiatives. In 2014, I was blessed to find the MSLOC program.  I use things I learned in the program every day in my current work as an organizational culture consultant.  Thank you, Northwestern!

That’s what we’re here for. What’s something you use on a daily basis?

My clients are leaders in their organizations. I use coaching to help them reframe what they’re seeing as disruption – their company has been acquired or new regulations have made their business model invalid, etc. – as an opportunity. Coaching is really about shifting our thinking so we can see possibilities. But that’s language and a technique I didn’t have before Northwestern’s OLCC program.

What else did you discover?

I had light exposure to one coach before the MSLOC program, but I still really didn’t get it. In fact, I thought I coached my clients all the time as a consultant. I thought it was about me influencing them, but it’s really about me guiding. Now I know coaches facilitate the journey to help individuals get where they want to go, but the answers are inside them.

How is organizational coaching different from athletic coaching?

Coaching is about meeting people where they are and taking them to the next level, so it’s similar to working with Olympic athletes and focusing on the mental aspects of an individual’s game. And of course, the end goals are different. Organizational coaching is a little more tied to missions, strategy or the business transformation the company needs.

How did you find MSLOC?

I happened to be working with Sarah Moore (MS17), and now I jokingly say God sent her to teach me about Northwestern and MSLOC. As soon as she mentioned Northwestern I said, ‘What program are you doing?’ I have wanted to go to Northwestern since my mid-20’s. I asked her question after question and after an hour, I said, ‘I’ll onboard you to this project later; I think this is the graduate program for me.’ It was really a special moment because I thought my chance for grad school had passed.


I couldn’t take time off work. But once I realized I could take one class at a time at MSLOC, it seemed doable.

Why did you decide to get your coaching certification?

I attended an alumni panel and everyone talked about the value of coaching. Even those who had finished the MSLOC degree but hadn’t done the coaching certificate said they wished they had. That had a big impact on me.

How do you use coaching in your job?

I listen in a completely different way; coaching taught me how to ask different types of questions. When you listen a layer down, the questions you ask actually make people feel more like they have been heard.  The outcome is more meaningful relationship building and bigger insights into how you can help - individually, with their team or at an organizational level.

Any hidden benefits of coaching?

When you do listen empathetically and ask curious questions it de-stresses you, and that’s happening to me! That’s probably the reason I don’t feel stressed when I do coaching and want to do even more of it.

You’ve worked and traveled all over the world. What’s a universal practice you rely on?

It’s always a good idea to listen first, no matter which culture you’re in. When you go into a new country or a new company, you’re an outsider. You don’t know their culture or their business. I approach it from a place of humility. The listening I do now comes from trying to understand and going below the surface. When you’re doing deep listening, you ask better questions and build stronger relationships with clients.

Give us an example of a ‘better’ question.

You don’t ask ‘what’s the work structure here?’ That’s irrelevant. Instead, you ask, ‘who inspires you here?’ Or you say, ‘it sounds like you appreciate and respect your boss’ which is better than saying, ‘tell me about your boss.’ You probe in a way that’s more meaningful and it brings them closer to you. That’s true regardless of the country you’re in.

What did you love most about the MSLOC program?  

It gave me a self-awareness and confidence about who I am and what I’m about and helped me realize it’s important to show up with 100 percent authenticity.  So, when I am doing discovery conversations with new clients, they know I’m a real person who wants to hear what they have to say in service to producing better outcomes.  I am real with them, and they can be real with me.   

Read more about the MSLOC program.

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