Sports award shows may not be your thing, but you’d likely feel differently if you were basing your opinion on what ESPN calls their “single greatest moment ever.” If you’d been there at their first ESPY awards, you would have called it “unforgettable!” – especially hearing one of the most inspiring speeches ever.

The speaker, Jimmy Valvano, was well-known for taking his somewhat average college basketball team to the NCAA national championship game, where they won in the greatest Cinderella turn-around of all time. At the time of the ESPY awards, Jimmy was so weak from cancer that he had to nearly be carried up the stage to the podium, but he had a message that he was determined to deliver. His short speech included a simple game plan for using clear purposes to help others focus and act on the things that matter most so that they could create joyful success under any circumstance. Sound familiar?

Moving people to action around what matters most is a challenge for any leader, but especially in the church where everyone is a volunteer, and everyone is at different levels in their spiritual and emotional maturity. Jimmy’s message serves as a reminder that helping people focus and act on what matters most never starts with telling them what to do or how to do it. Rather, joyful success comes when you help others first focus on the deeper why and find authentic connection to a clear purpose, one that is meaningful and bigger than themselves.

Imagine what might be different in your ward, in your ministering, and in your interactions at home if, instead of starting with what to do or how to do it, you first asked yourself, your presidency, or others:

  • What is truly important here?
  • What is important about this?
  • What is my/our/your deeper purpose here (in this situation)?

As a Relief Society president, I love purpose-focused questions! When I teach, for example, right after I’ve invited someone to read a scripture or a quote, I almost always ask, “What word/phrase jumped out at you?” And then immediately follow with, “What is important about that to you?” Inevitably, this is the question that opens the heart to hearing the Spirit as new connections and ideas begin to form. This is also where the richest insights generally come for the rest of the group who then feel the Holy Ghost inviting them to answer this question for themselves.

I use purpose-oriented questions at the beginning of my ministering interviews as well – questions like:

  • How has ministering made a difference in your life?
  • What’s important about it to you?

Giving others a chance to search for answers to purpose-oriented questions allows space for the Holy Ghost to be their teacher and to answer their hearts and minds directly. And when the answer comes spirit to spirit (and they then have a chance to declare it and be witnessed), it forms an internal source of motivation and meaning that wouldn’t have come in any other way. Asking purpose-oriented questions that go straight to the heart also activates their agency as they begin to look for answers.

In some ways, you become like the angel that said to Nephi multiple times, “Look!” And because he was invited to look – he looked! How much revelation might come to those who are close to you because you focus them on purpose-oriented questions that open their minds and hearts to Heaven?

Let’s follow this idea one step further and consider what happens the moment you invite someone to look (and s/he looks). No big surprise, but these questions open up the heart, and prepare the other person to learn from the Savior, almost as though He were physically present. And as Matthew 11:28-30 so aptly teaches, learning from the Savior provides “rest unto the soul.” Your seemingly small act can help lift the burden of those who are “weary and heavy-laden” and long for Him – but can’t seem to find His help or relief.

There is one final advantage of using purpose-oriented questions as a starting point that we might want to think about. When you do, you help others create their own inner source of motivation, which frees you from being an “accountability policeman.” When individuals search for and receive answers that feel individualized (to just them), it means they own the answers! As you connect others to the deeper why (of ministering, or whatever the topic is) you are using a more personal way of creating connection and motivation. Maybe even a higher and holier way.

The moral of all of this is so simple. When you start with why, with purpose (not with what to do, or how to do it) your people will find their own way. It is always true that if you can find your why, you’ll always find your way to do what is needed, and you’ll know how to do it.

So – given what the Spirit has taught you while you’ve been reading, what’s important to you about using purpose-oriented questions? Where and how could you start to use them today? As you pause to be still and look for the answers, be prepared for revelation, insight, and power you may never have believed possible!

This article has been written by DeAnna Murphy – the Chaska (Minnesota) ward Relief Society president, and the Chief Knowledge Officer for Thrivin. DeAnna is also a Top 100 Global Coaching Leader who has provided keynotes and leadership development experiences to leaders and teams in over 60 countries; she is the principal author of Shift Up! Strengths Strategies for Optimal Living and co-author of Choose to See You. You can contact her via email:

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