Success is all about people, people. Whatever business a company is in, its employees are its biggest competitive advantage—Richard Branson

It is no secret in the information age that people are a company’s greatest asset, yet most organizations continue to operate as if employees are expendable, replaceable and lack ideas on how to deliver the products and services in better ways. If people understand that employees are the key to success why are most organizations incapable of aligning themselves with true employee empowerment?

The answer is found in the dissonance of organization leadership who are torn between perpetuating a system that provides them the trappings of power with the new reality of what works—and what doesn’t— in today’s world. In other words, those who are in positions of leadership are often there because our decaying systems reward them with power and money; after all they are in the corner office with the big paycheck. Yet, in order to fully embrace a world where all employees have the opportunity to lead means shifting the system—for everyone, and that is a threatening proposition when you are the one in power.

Consider for a moment:

  • Beginning at companies just outside the top 10 Fortune 500, the average employee retention rate is 8 years or less (source)
  • For companies beyond the top 100 the retention rate is less than 5 years. (source)
  • A 2013 Gallup Poll found that 52 percent of employees are disengaged with another 18 percent highly disengaged—which means a total of 70 percent of your organization’s workforce isn’t truly involved in your success let alone giving their best to your customers or their co-workers! (source)
  • A disengaged workforce affects the bottom line as companies with the fewest disengaged employees experiencing greater profits (source)

There are many similar studies that lead to the same conclusion—success in today’s economy requires engaged employees who are mission focused and willing to stick around to lead organizations to continually new levels of achievement. The evidence is abundant, yet the willingness to invest in employee leadership is dismal and often left to Talent Management Officers to make real.

Just as we see Congress crumbling from this phenomenon, too many organizations are failing to thrive for the very same reason. The gap between knowing what creates excellence and doing it is hurting companies worldwide—with Volkswagen as only the most recent example of failed leadership from top to bottom. So what is the answer? Choose to lead—everyone, everywhere, all the time.

This is not leadership that teaches people how to speak authoritatively, manage others or run a meeting. What is being called for is a new model of leadership, one that engages each person as the authentic leader they are, that encourages them to own their talents and strengths and to bring them fully into their work each day. It is leadership that connects passion and purpose to the mission of the organization and knows how to align the right people with the best work to achieve excellent results. With this type of leadership development the rewards are enormous—happy fulfilled employees, greater synergy and engagement in teams and with work, quality products achieved with greater ease and ultimately fully satisfied customers.

What is the catch? It is simple—this type of leadership only works when top management engages in it as well. You can only lead by a being a leader, not just a person with a role or title. The upside? If you are a running an organization that wants to improve its retention, employee engagement and customer satisfaction this is an easy way to do. With less investment then you are spending on outmoded and ineffectual leadership systems that slap concepts on top of disengaged employees you can go straight to the root of the issue and shift it—now.

People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps—Mary Kay Ash

Mary Kay may be a cosmetics company in a high-tech world and perhaps she was on to something that remains true—foster your employees dreams, see them for the talented individuals they are and align them with your mission. In cultivating leadership at all levels in an organization, employees thrive and so too does your business.