Do You Stultify Your Team?

March 16, 2016

On February 10, 2016, I was re-reading My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers and I came across an old word whose meaning was unfamiliar to me: stultify. Have you ever looked it up?

stultify: 1:to allege or prove to be of unsound mind and hence not responsible; 2:to cause to appear to be stupid, foolish, or absurdly illogical; 3a: to impair, invalidate, or make ineffective: NEGATE; 3b: to have a dulling or inhibiting effect on.*

I appreciate My Utmost because the author challenges me into an old-fashioned relationship with Christ. Over the years, I’ve found several words I didn’t know and had to look up. The book was first published in 1935 and, when reading the original version, you can tell it from the word usage alone.

The entry in My Utmost is about how our imaginations become stultified by things of the Earth. The word is actually used in a sentence about our prayers being stultified (or seeming futile) because we have no imagination and no power of “putting ourselves deliberately before God.” We don’t believe God is as big as He is and we therefore stultify our own imagination. We satisfy it with less than it could be until we really don’t believe something as great as God exists. The author even speaks about how nature is the way it is to draw our attention to The Great God, the One and Only who created all things.


In our workplaces, how often do we stultify our team members? How often do we not give them all the facts and cause them to make less than the best decision? Then we come back and criticize their outcome, encouraging them to avoid responsibility in the future.  Ring a bell? How often do we let our reports act on something without enough guidance? How often do we put them in a position to fail?

Every time we limit our team’s ability to succeed, we risk stultifying them. Certainly some limits are necessary. We can’t simply purchase everything or hire everyone needed to achieve every objective in the requested time frame. Much of life is a balance between competing desires. However as leaders, we either help our people win, or watch them (emotionally or physically) quit.  No one wants to under-perform, fail, or come up short. Once our teammates believe they will never reach their goals, they’re tempted to settle for mediocrity, much like Seth Godin wrote about in The Icarus Deception. People who reject mediocrity leave. We find we’ve created a culture that rewards mediocrity.

Can you think of other ways we stultify our teams? List a few below in the comments. Then, find ways today to remove any artificial and stultifying limits placed on our team members. Help them flourish in their jobs and their lives. In the end, your team and your work will begin to energize you. Their excitement will make work fun again.

Note: Modern reprints of My Utmost don’t use “stultify” but substitute “sense of futility.”

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