As many of today's leaders see it, the biggest threat to business isn't finding talent, paying workers $15 per hour or using automation in tandem with tight security--it's climate change. After all, as I've written before, no matter how skilled, rich or experienced you are, if you don't have a planet, you don't have a venue in which to operate a business and make profits in the first place.

And so, as the BBC reported on Monday, Tuesday, Ethiopia's Minister of Innovation and Technology, Getahun Mekuria, announced via Twitter that volunteers had planted a mindblowing 350 million trees in just 12 hours. The effort was part of the Green Legacy Initiative spearheaded by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to counter both deforestation and climate concerns.

While the initiative is not without its political critics, the incredible feat nevertheless is a wonderful teaching moment for professionals. Here are the biggest takeaways.

1. Many people doing a little can put a massive goal in reach. As with other planting campaigns, the Green Legacy Initiative looked not to a select few working for months or years, but to hundreds of thousands of volunteers who all gave a small contribution at once. As schedules become tighter in the U.S. and globally, companies can be more vocal about the fact that participation doesn't always have to involve a massive individual commitment. And while they don't have to entirely abandon schmoozing specific "key" individuals, they can "win the crowd" and communicate that everyone can engage as leaders.

2. Sacrifice a little for the big picture. According to the BBC's report, at least some public offices reportedly closed so that civil servants could participate in the project. This undoubtedly caused temporary disruption of services, but the potential losses and irritations from that disruption arguably pale in comparison to the future benefits of the forestation. People also were able to see those in authority leading by inclusive example.

3. Accept and start with simple solutions to complex problems. The number of trees necessary to curb climate change is admittedly intimidating (about 1 trillion, by one estimate) and needs to be done with extreme care to preserve fragile ecosystems. But as Kathleen Parker of the Washington Post reports, deforestation alone contributes to as much as 15 percent of emissions. So while tackling it won't erase the climate change problem completely, it's a good example of why leaders shouldn't dismiss the obvious when it comes to reducing risks and getting results. Don't overthink.

4. Don't settle for incremental progress if you're capable of a big leap. In many cases, slow, tiny steps forward are the best route. But they certainly don't have to be the rule. Here, India previously had set a record of planting 50 million trees. The new initiative in Ethiopia didn't just edge out that number--it clobbered it by 600 percent. If you can safely, affordably and morally do significantly more than your predecessors/competitors, then don't let their puny standard hold you back.

Published on: Jul 30, 2019
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