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Nicolai Tillisch

Nicolai Tillisch

Dubai, UAE / Copenhagen, Denmark

Nicolai helps leaders in highly ambitious environments to explore and reach the greatest version of themselves. For him, Cultivating Leadership is a unique opportunity to work with friends both old and new, with whom he shares the commitment to help leaders thrive in complex times and to effect changes for the greater good.

The intersection between the desire to make a difference and the urge to understand human sense-making has been central throughout his adult life. Nicolai considers compassion, curiosity, and a measure of humor to be among the virtues that help him to help others. He applies methods grounded in adult development and complexity, amongst others, and draws on his own extensive experience in the world of business.

Nicolai is a Danish, Dubai-based coach, facilitator, and author who also runs a few entrepreneurial pursuits on the side. His clients are individual executives, leadership teams, and boards of directors. He also designs and delivers larger-scale events and programs. His engagements span four continents.

Nicolai first undertook training in coaching in 1997 and has since then practiced with his colleagues. Since 2011, it has been his profession. He has multiple certifications accredited by the International Coach Federation, including Growth Edge Coaching. Nicolai is also certified by the Institute of Directors (IoD) and practices as faculty of its development program for board directors.

Nicolai has co-authored, with Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Return on Ambition: A Radical Approach to Achievement, Growth, and Well-Being. Fast Company Press will publish this book in January 2021. His previous book, Effective Business in the Gulf: Mastering Leadership Skills for Greater Success (Motivate Publishing), was a local bestseller that addresses how to lead in increasingly dynamic and diverse circumstances. The revised English second edition and a Korean translation came out in 2015.

His current entrepreneurship projects include The Leadership Circle, a provider of developmental assessments, which he established together with his wife, Ida, in the Middle East and North Africa, and for which they continue to have the regional license. He is co-founder of Deliberate Development, a Stockholm-based edtech startup, together with Stefan Falk.

Nicolai took bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics at the University of Copenhagen, where game theory, behavioral economics, and the groundbreaking research by Daniel Kahneman on human biases caught his interest.

He joined McKinsey & Company as a management consultant, leaving after a couple of years to work at the first of three corporate startups, as a managing director for Bernbach, a hot brand agency inside the advertising network DDB Worldwide. He was later program director for mobile operator 3, Hutchison’s US$20 billion bet on 3G technology, and was responsible for the launch of its Danish network and commercial operation. Finally, he worked at what became Nokia Siemens Networks and was its global head of consulting, leading several hundred professionals around the world. He joined the company in the United Kingdom, later moving to the United Arab Emirates.

Beyond deeply appreciating the immense privilege of working with his extraordinary clients and colleagues, as he does, Nicolai’s heart is first of all with Ida and their young children, Margaux and Axel. They enjoy many small things in life, a large family, friends, and the beauty of nature.


I would never like to be without my conversations with Nicolai. He has helped me to understand new dimensions in myself. It's great that he has such a good sense of my world. His wise questions help me to step up both as a leader and a person.

The founder and CEO of a fast growing, international tech startup