CNLP 386: Jeff and Terra Mattson on How to Tell If You’re Heading for a Moral Failure, Signs of a Narcissistic Leader and How Platform Can Be a Trap for Young Leaders

Why do so many leaders collapse under the weight of leadership? Jeff and Terra Mattson have counselled and coached hundreds of leaders and share how gaps in integrity develop.

In this interview, we list the signs you may be headed for a moral failure or collapse, how to spot a narcissistic leader, and the challenge young leaders face in shaping a perfect and growing platform.

Welcome to Episode 386 of the podcastListen and access the show notes below or search for the Carey Nieuwhof Leadership Podcast on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts and listen for free.

Plus, in this episode’s What I’m Thinking About segment, Carey shares 5 keys to building a life of integrity.

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Shrinking the Integrity Gap by Jeff Mattson and Terra A. Mattson

Living Wholehearted

Living Wholehearted Podcast with Jeff and Terra

CNLP 212: Erwin McManus on How to Spot a Narcissist in Leadership, Overcoming the Need for Approval, and What He Experienced at The Global Leadership Summit 2018

CNLP 327: Lysa TerKeurst on How to 10x Your Audience, Craft Messages That Actually Connect with People, and Discover Which Voice You Have as a Communicator

Let Us Prey by Darrell Puls

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1. Unresolved trauma is a hidden cause of the integrity gap in leaders today

It’s easy to see the gap between what many leaders preach and what many preachers actually live out in their lives. So, what is causing this gap? And why do leaders almost never see their own moral failures coming? Jeff and Terra have been studying this for decades, and one of the biggest and unexpected causes is unresolved trauma.

Whether it was abuse as a child, frequent moves or any other abnormal life-altering event, leaders have a tendency to minimize the trauma in their past. When they do this, that trauma begins to grow and spread until it manifests itself as that leader becoming someone they never intended to be.

2. There’s a fine line between appropriate and inappropriate vulnerability

When it comes to talking about personal struggles, there is a fine line between sharing an appropriate and inappropriate amount of personal information. Many people take their internal trauma and struggles and blast it all over social media. This is usually an example of being too vulnerable, and it could undercut your influence.

On the other hand, there are leaders who are never vulnerable. So, how much public vulnerability is appropriate? Jeff and Terra have found that it’s a fine line. A few signs that you are being inappropriate are:

  • Sharing stories that aren’t yours to tell
  • Sharing things publicly online before discussing it with your internal circle
  • Or not being vulnerable when everyone else is (like, pretending everything is great in a global pandemic)

If you’re doing any of these things, you probably aren’t walking the line of appropriate vulnerability.

3. Narrow the gap between our private walk and our public talk

Over the last few decades, our culture has shifted to prioritizing people with charisma over people with character. Social media has accelerated that trend. Now, the gap between who we look like online and who we actually are is widening, and this gap will begin to tear us apart as it widens.

So, what can you do to change this? Narrow the gap between who you really are and who you are online. Admit your failures, don’t spend so much time on filters and allow people to see the real you. And, if you don’t want to show who you really are, maybe you need to invest more time into your own health before you put on a front online.

Quotes from Episode 386

Read or Download the Transcript for Episode 386

Looking for a key quote? More of a reader?

Read or download a free PDF transcript of this episode here.

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Next Episode: Harris III

Harris III traveled the world as a teenage illusionist, making a million dollars by age 21 and losing it all at age 22. His growing cynicism almost took him down, but around age 30, he learned to recapture wonder. He explains how wonder can not only recapture your personal hope (and faith), but how it’s an essential ingredient to leadership and crafting a story that rallies people.

Subscribe for free now so you won’t miss Episode 387.

CNLP 386: Jeff and Terra Mattson on How to Tell If You’re Heading for a Moral Failure, Signs of a Narcissistic Leader and How Platform Can Be a Trap for Young Leaders


  1. Jennifer Baker on December 25, 2020 at 3:25 pm

    Jeff and Terra shared much that is beneficial in this podcast, but as a clinical psychologist with 30 years of experience seeing individuals, couples and families in therapy, I was troubled by some aspects of what they said. While I do not deny that there are narcissists — and I’ve seen and know some, I think it is dangerous to encourage “diagnosis” of the problem by the average person. In the past two years, especially, I’ve had a number of clients come in and say to me in a hushed, conspiratorial tone, “I’ve been doing some reading and I’m pretty sure s/he is a narcissist.” It then becomes my job–usually–to help them see the problem with that assessment. Here are some reasons why:

    1) As the Mattson’s describe it, the roots of narcissism are sewn between the ages of two and four and after that, there’s not much you can do about it. This is a very psychodynamic theory. There are other theories and not all would agree. The problem with defining a person in such a way is that there’s virtually no hope for them and all you can do is get rid of them. While it may be necessary to avoid or dismiss someone who displays the characteristics of a narcissist, I’m struggling to say the number is increasing. Are we recognizing more or misdiagnosing?

    2) I often see people who self-diagnose this problem in someone else who they’re struggling with and they want to use it as an excuse or reason to get out of a relationship, fire a person, cut off any contact with someone, etc.

    3) Diagnosing someone else as a narcissist makes it very easy for one to assume the role of victim. As a systems oriented therapist often using a cognitive behavioral approach, I would prefer to focus on what the client can do, i.e. the changes s/he can make, versus diagnosing another person–one I typically may not ever see.

    4) Narcissistic behavior is very common in folks with a substance use disorder of some kind. When then get sober or clean and work their program, that behavior often disappears or diminishes considerably.

    5) While you did talk about how narcissism exists on a continuum, much of the time it still felt like the emphasis was on defining a “narcissist” so you could avoid them. If we take a more wholistic view of a person theoretically, relationally and spiritually, we might see things in a different light. It often depends on the lens through which one looks. I’ve been doing this long enough to recall when we identified codependency and the number of “codependents” exploded. Then, there was the explosion of false memories and multiple personality disorder. After that there were eating disorders and self-harming behavior. These do exist, but the more “press” they get, the more often we see them.

    As a Christ follower and a therapist of many years, I want to be very, very careful with diagnosis– mine and that of others. We need to be very thoughtful about the labels we give people and the impact this can have of them, their relationships and the people they serve.

    I’ve seen a fair number of ministry leaders in therapy and actually served on the staff of two large churches where I have seen narcissism in full bloom. That being said, I still feel compelled to approach this subject with much wisdom, prayer and compassion. There may be many other factors at work.

  2. Scott Stober on December 22, 2020 at 12:08 pm

    On the email notifications I receive it notes that there are transcripts available for podcasts. Where would I find these?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 22, 2020 at 5:08 pm

      Just above here in the section called “Read or Download the Transcript”. Hope you enjoy!

  3. Michael Doerr on December 22, 2020 at 9:24 am

    This discussion on narcissism and narcissists provides depth to my ongoing engagement with a Henry Cloud GLS Summit talk called Wise, Foolish, and Evil.
    Thanks for encouraging an ongoing quest for integrity, and the faith to get back up when I trip over myself.

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