When Lewis Capaldi took the stage for his highly anticipated performance in 2023, he not only mesmerized the crowd with his incredible musical talent but also demonstrated a rare and remarkable level of openness about his inner life. In an industry where vulnerability is often shrouded in stigma, Capaldi fearlessly embraced the opportunity to livestream what would usually be submerged personal struggles. With the support of a loving and accepting crowd, he became a beacon of what we at Mycelium call ‘level 2 vulnerability’.
Level 1 vs Level 2 vulnerability
‘Level 1 vulnerability’ consists of sharing meaningful stories from our past, the deeper stories that don’t often surface in normal conversation. Sharing our mental health story in the workplace is an example of this. These stories can be a potent form of helping others understand us, connect to their own struggles and normalise a degree of openness. However, these stories tend to include a ‘I was lost and now I’m found’ narrative, with the story tied up with a nice neat little bow.
‘Level 2 vulnerability’, on the other hand, is where we share the ways in which we are still broken and struggling, at this very moment. These stories aren’t tied up with a neat little bow, but are ongoing, uncertain and messy. It is this kind of sharing where organisations can find the deepest medicine in terms of building psychological safety.
Vulnerability & role modelling: The Virtuous Cycle
What enabled Lewis Capaldi’s display of level 2 vulnerability was the psychological safety fostered by the crowd. As he began to gesture towards his own mental health struggles, the audience responded with an outpouring of empathy and support, rather than contraction and judgement. Capaldi’s vulnerability was met by an atmosphere of empathy and understanding, enabling him to drop even deeper into level 2 vulnerability, which was met with even more reassurance from the crowd.
This feedback loop is what enables us to step out of ‘collective pretending’. Psychological safety enables individuals to open up, which in turn role models openness and creates deeper psychological safety – it is a virtuous cycle. Every expression of level 2 vulnerability creates generosity in the system, and encourages others to do the same. The thing is: someone has to go first. This is what Lewis Capaldi did – he went first – and this is what leaders must do. Line Managers up and down the country should note the performance as a masterclass in shifting the subculture of their teams towards greater transparency and openness.
A masterclass in regenerative leadership:
Capaldi’s openness about his mental health struggles during his performance served as a powerful role model for both fans and fellow artists. By shedding light on the state of his inner world as he stood there on stage, he broke down the walls of stigma surrounding mental health and showed that it’s possible to be both successful and struggle. Capaldi’s authenticity and candour sent a resounding message that we all struggle, and naming it explicitly in the workplace (the stage is his workplace) is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Beyond his performance, Lewis Capaldi’s willingness to openly discuss his mental health created a ripple effect, inviting individuals to connect with their own experiences and struggles, sparking meaningful conversations worldwide. Fans and music lovers found solace and comfort in knowing that even their favourite artists face similar challenges. Capaldi’s bravery has inspired individuals to share their own stories, fostering a sense of community and solidarity. By initiating these important dialogues, Capaldi helped to dismantle the stigma associated with actively living with mental health problems (as opposed to the ‘I was broken but now I’m fixed’ narrative.)
Lewis Capaldi’s 2023 performance stands as a powerful testament to the importance of openness and candour about mental health. By fearlessly sharing his own struggles, he created a space for fans to confront their own challenges, while also inspiring a larger conversation surrounding mental well-being. Capaldi’s performance served as a rallying cry, urging individuals to name when they are not okay. In a world that often stigmatizes mental health, Capaldi’s unwavering honesty and the response of the crowd shone as a beacon of hope and compassion, reminding us all of the transformative power of openness and understanding.
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