Just recently a strange e-mail invitation came my way. “Charisma is the secret of engagement” claimed the invite from Capita, to a forthcoming workshop on the subject of charisma.

Now apart from the fact that I have written a book on charisma which has been translated into 15 languages, I could see no obvious reason to attend this workshop. But I could see one major reason not to attend: charisma is NOT the secret of engagement!

We probably all have views on the importance or otherwise of charisma, but I cannot think that many people seriously believe that this is how you generate people’s engagement at work. Of course, in communicating to someone that you think what they do is important or valuable it obviously matters that you get this message across with impact.

But charisma is not the answer to engagement, since in essence it rests with the individual themselves, not the person delivering the message. They have to arrive at the decision to become engaged and it is not something you can do to them.

I am not denying the importance of charisma in helping each of us make a strong, memorable impression. In that sense it obviously plays an important role in any communication where you want to affect someone’s behaviour. However, that is rather like saying speaking clearly is important in any communication—it’s true, but hardly worth paying a few hundred pounds to attend a workshop to hear that.

What then does create engagement? Engaging for Success in late 2009 spelled out the benefits of engagement, without providing a sufficiently clear route to how you actual make it happen in your own organisation.

Since then, a flood of papers, seminars, workshops and conferences has inundated us with advice on the engagement topic. Some, like the claim about charisma is of rather dubious quality.

Still, you would have to have been living on another planet to have escaped the fundamental message that engagement directly and favourable affects a wide range of corporate variables, from profitability to sales to attrition rates.

What has emerged from this maelstrom of data is that there are some definite causes of engagement and, unsurprisingly charisma is not one of them! The Maynard Leigh view, expressed in our own white paper on Talent Engagement, argues for VIDI as a dependable way to create engagement. That is, for engagement to occur, employees need to feel Valued, Involved, Developed and Inspired.

The VIDI approach seems to strike a chord with many people and has been taken up and used by various clients. It is not however a panacea. One of the important implications of the need to create engagement is the implications for leadership. Leaders may need to hone their skills in both understanding and promoting a culture in which engagement can flourish.

Pushed to its limits one can make the argument that leaders use their personality to excite and motivate people, and that this is why charisma is so important in promoting engagement. But as Jim Collins has shown so convincingly, the leaders of really successful organisations do not rely on charisma to make their impact. Rather, they are modest yet wilful, humble yet fearless.