A Coaching Model Created by Michèle Smole
(Executive Coach, SWITZERLAND)
Escaping the Black Hole
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. Victor Frankl
The Black Hole
What is it?
As a corporate employee to strive or survive in a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world, you need to be adaptable, anticipate and prepare for change, evolve and reinvent yourself at a faster pace than ever before. Corporate cost efficiency and change programs, outsourcing and process optimization are lurking around every corner in almost every organization. “Culture eats strategy for breakfast” is a famous quote from legendary management consultant and writer Peter Drucker. However, when corporate change throws people off the tip of Maslow’s pyramid and threatens job safety, position or power, the reverse conclusion suddenly may apply: “Strategy eats culture for breakfast.”
When corporate strategy starts to undermine culture, the best organizations, teams, and people can become toxic. People hit rock bottom of the change curve and can be sucked into, what I call the “corporate black hole”.
Like stellar black holes, corporate black holes are invisible. Before one even notices, one gets sucked into a pitch-dark space that sucks all energy and motivation out of people; the shining star collapses; people get lost in the dark. What next?
“If you feel you are in a black hole, don’t give up. There’s a way out,” said Stephen Hawking. “[…] black holes ain’t as black as they are painted. They are not the eternal prisons they were once thought. Things can get out of a black hole and possibly come out in another universe.”
The 5 R’s Coaching Model
A way out
Escaping the black hole is possible after all. It can however be difficult to do without the support and can be an exhausting and lengthy process.
The 5 R’s coaching model is designed to help clients speed up their ride through the change curve and escape that black hole that holds them hostage. The coach helps the client “come out in another universe”.
Rest and think!
The effects of organizational change on employee well-being have been explored in various studies. Organizational change can be met with resistance or hostility by employees who are either fearful of change or believe, it will be to their detriment. The natural physical response to anxiety and stress is “fight-or-flight:” The body produces adrenalin and cortisol, which were supposed to help us survive in the stone age, but in today’s corporate environment may induce tunnel vision, aggression and distract us from thinking clearly.
In the first step, clients need to gain a clear head again, that allows them to think and rationally analyze the situation and create awareness on how they are reacting to it. The coach helps the client to take a step back and observe their reaction.
Stop the blame!
When corporate strategy threatens individual job safety, position, or power and violates personal values, negative thoughts and aggression can take over. Negativity becomes a habit, people become toxic. They tend to fixate on small issues, things that go wrong. They lose vision and far-sightedness. As a result, performance drops, and with this, self-doubt and anxiety levels peak.
Their shining star collapses the black hole forms. They get lost in the dark and start blaming the situation, their superiors, peers, and finally themselves. They can get apathetic, feel remote, or even actively isolate themselves. 
The coach helps the client create awareness of their perspective and emotional reactions.
Change the story!
When performance drops, people may blame themselves. They tend to base the future on their present circumstances (“end of history illusion”). If they are in a whirlwind of negative emotions, the future may seem bleak. They are drawn even deeper into the black hole. While we cannot always change our circumstances we can choose to change our perspective and break this vicious cycle. Instead of seeing problems and preparing for the worst-case scenario, we can tilt the lens and reframe the stories we tell ourselves.
The coach helps the client move beyond “fight-or-flight”, and choose rationality over illogical fears, shame and blame. The coach challenges the client’s underlying beliefs and helps them change their inner dialogue, essentially move from significance to lightness and towards acceptance.
Turn negativity into positive energy!
Our perception and thoughts greatly influence how we react to the situation, both in terms of what we do and how we feel. Taking full responsibility for our thoughts, controlling the way we react to things that are out of our control is a first step towards the light. Change might mean the end of the world as we know it, but what if change meant progress? What if something good came out of it? How could one seize the opportunity of disruption, focus on our existing strengths, learn something new, and reinvent oneself?
The coach helps the client to regulate their negative thoughts and emotions, shift their thinking to opportunities instead of limitations, and use their creativity to find their unique way out.
Come out on the other side!
How can this situation be used for personal growth and development? What strengths can be of value? Having brought to light hidden opportunities and actively engage in the change process will give the client a renewed sense of control. With a clear vision and plan of action of what steps need to be taken to progress towards what they want will help the client escape the black hole and come out on the other side – may be in a different shape or form or another universe. With a new overarching sense of purpose, clients will regain motivation to drive forward.
The coach helps the client understand what they want and use their strengths to overcome their limiting believes and find ways to escape the black hole.
Helpful Tools and Frameworks
- Appreciative Enquiry
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
- Creating Awareness
- Emotional Intelligence: Self-Management
- Lightness vs. Significance
- Reframing perspectives
- Respond vs. reacting
- Responsibility vs. blame
Kumar, V.S., 2012, Power Tool: Lightness vs. Significance, International Coach Academy, viewed April 2020
The Change Curve, viewed April 2020,
Callahan, David, 2015, Hawking: information lost in black holes could be stored in alternate universes, Stockholm Technology Blog, viewed April 2020
Roseman, Ira J. (1996) ‘Appraisal Determinants of Emotions: Constructing a More Accurate and Comprehensive Theory‘, Cognition & Emotion, 10: 3, pp. 241 -278.
Szymanska, Kasia (2012) Understanding CBT: develop your toolkit to reduce stress and increase well-being, Kogan Page, London; Philadelphia.
‘Fight-or-flight response‘ (2020) Wikipedia. (Accessed: April 2020).
 Callahan (2015)
 Wikipedia (2020)
 Roseman (1996)
 The Change Curve (2020)
 Kumar (2012)
 Szymanska (2012)