Forming a future means thinking like a futurist

Emerging Leaders in QC learn to speak from their seat at the table.

A group of young Quad Cities professionals have been meeting for months — not with the goal of replacing current community leaders but with the goal of joining them.

During their graduation late March, a collection of about two dozen rising stars representing a diverse array of industries in the Quad Cities shared ways they intend to “Think Like A Futurist” and use their newly developed strategies for anticipating the future.

The 20-and 30-somethings, members of United Way Quad Cities’ Emerging Leaders group sponsored by IMEG, are relative newcomers to their professions or mid-career – from banking to nonprofits to engineering firms – and are learning to turn fresh perspectives into trail-blazing contributions.

Through this United Way program, led by nationally renowned economist and futurist, Rebecca Ryan, the group met for six four-hour sessions to learn how to better listen to others, recognize signs of emerging trends and to understand their community’s current and future challenges, among other things. 

The “Think Like A Futurist” program advances United Way’s work to face our community’s challenges with determination and optimism. That’s how we create win-wins to expand opportunity to everyone in the Quad Cities, and make our community stronger.

“You guys are helping to invent the future for creating,” the Madison-based best-selling author Ryan told the group. “What you guys have learned is a posture for the future … seeing peripherally.”


Leading in the face of change.

One by one, the Emerging Leaders summed up their biggest takeaways from their training.

Several spoke of learning to better recognize bias and how it can shape decisions; the value of hearing from a multitude of perspectives; and what the Quad Cities community, “is really about.”

Many in the group said their industries are in the process of considerable change and said they feel better prepared to challenge the status quo — not to make waves but to contribute.

Adam Pelzer, an Executive Vice President at Northwest Bank and an Emerging Leader, said his group talked about everything from electric vehicles to youth mental health and cognitive bias and uncovered a need for action.

“’We can do better’ is what this group came to conclude,” he said.

Many Emerging Leaders were joined by top brass at their companies for their graduation. One sentiment these more experienced leaders voiced was the fact the country and the community’s future is in the hands of the young is not as daunting as it can sound.

By being equipped with “futurist” ideas, such as slowing their thinking, trying new things and watching for signals of emerging trends, many in the group reported a new, higher level of self-confidence.

“I’m happy we’re the first group, and there’s more to come,” said Angie Sharp, Community Engagement Manager for the City of Bettendorf and an Emerging Leader. “This program is planting the seed for what the community needs and will need, which is a direct connection to United Way’s mission.

It was totally different from any leadership training I’ve taken before, because it can reach everybody — from many professional areas. And it impacts our personal lives, too, by teaching us to slow down and observe and think about our interactions while watching for signals.

—Angie Sharp, Community Engagement Manager City of Bettendorf

And it’s OK that progress in our community isn’t always defined by continuously uninterrupted growth.

“One reason Emerging Leaders and the futurist training is so good is that it considers the good, the bad and the ugly,” Sharp said. “It’s fun to talk about new downtown development, for instance, but aging infrastructure is impactful. too.

“A lot of us in this under-40 age group have a seat at the table but still are afraid to say anything; afraid to be wrong. We’ve learned that it’s OK to ask questions and to help create, including the future.”

Empowering lives of wise leadership.

Many of our tried-and-true Quad Cities community and business leaders are transitioning to different phases in their lives. This leaves room for more young adults to fill these gaps. The more people who become leaders, the more problems we will solve.

The challenge is, not only do we need to grow our pipeline of potential leaders but also ensure they are equipped with the skills, foresight and knowledge to address evolving complexity and disruption within society. 

United Way’s Emerging Leaders programming like “Think Like A Futurist” empowers lives of wise leadership. Because, when we do, businesses and our wider community share in the benefits.

If you’re under 40 years old, motivated to help create opportunity for all, and want to connect with like-minded peers, learn more about Emerging Leaders.

Special thanks to the Annual Sponsor of Emerging Leaders.

Registration is now open for the Day of Caring. The all-day volunteer blitz takes place Thursday, April 25, all across Scott and Rock Island Counties.

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