On Monday night, Phelps Sprinkle ’93 returned to Davidson to share his experiences and thoughts on leadership. 6e lecture, titled “What Building a Tree House Taught Me about Reflective Leadership,” centered on Sprinkle’s decision to focus on building a tree house for his family before worrying about the next step in his career.
Sprinkle, a member of Davidson’s 1992 Final Four soccer team, now serves as Director of Organization Development of Peacehaven Community Farm, a non-profit organization whose mission is to create community between non-disabled and disabled individuals. “When you spend time with people who have different backgrounds and experiences[…].it’s a powerful thing. You learn from them,” Sprinkle said.
The lecture, presented in an open question and answer format, started with Sprinkle’s remarking on his days at Davidson before going through his career path and future goals. However, his beliefs and thoughts on leadership and passion were most prominent in his lecture. “I like to live my life seamlessly,” he said.
Sprinkle’s humor and energy set the tone for the lecture. When asked what stood out in his experience at Davidson, for example, he joked about his 1.75 freshman spring semester GPA. He went on to talk about two classes he took his junior year that changed the way he lived his life. “Before, I was going through the motions,” he said. “But now, when I see something that I don’t like, I do something about it.”
Sprinkle made sure to emphasize that leadership to him involves just as much “being as doing.” He explained this concept by telling a story about how the financial success of his previous company, Topics, came at the same time as health problems for his disabled daughter, Roxy. This time prompted Sprinkle to pause and think about the balance between his successful work and challenges at home.
Sprinkle’s family and career, on which he focused for the first half of the lecture, proved necessary to forming his views on leadership. “You do need strong leaders and strong-willed people, but at the end of the day, it comes down to having love, trust, and respect between a group of people,” Sprinkle said. He urged the importance of teaching with leadership, and described many people in his life – including his daughter, Roxy, residents of Peacehaven, and colleagues – who influence the way he lives and leads.
From there, Sprinkle offered career advice to students in the crowd. “Don’t think you’ll do the same thing your whole life,” he said, as he presented a slide of various jobs his classmates from Davidson now hold. He mentioned several cases in which his friends started out in completely different fields than the ones in which they find themselves now. Sprinkle explained that following one’s passions forces a lot of life changes. Accumulating power and reputation can be overrated, according to Sprinkle, because “if you do great work, and you’re passionate about it, people will follow you.”
Sprinkle finished the lecture by reading the poem “Fire” by Judy Brown, a poem he believed is a perfect metaphor for his ideas on reflective leadership and balancing work with the rest of life.
Sprinkle’s lecture resonated with older students who will soon have to form career paths of their own. “He’s telling us that we should do what we love; you don’t have to do exactly what everyone tells you to do,” Jessica Miller ’16 said.
Morgan Birch ‘17 echoed Miller’s thoughts. “[People at Davidson] seem so set on having a perfect life right now, when you could change your career seven or ten times…we’re so grade driven, but finding your passion is ultimately more important.”
Matt Spear, head coach of the men’s soccer team, remarked afterwards on being able to hear a member of his Davidson class and a great friend, come back to campus and give a lecture to current students. “I learned some things about him that I didn’t even know,” Spear said.
Spear went on to point out the ways Davidson alumni give back to the College. “Davidson alumni, including Phelps, are really grateful for their experience here…and they want to see this place build and succeed; they want to see it evolve.