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Nicolai Tillisch

Nicolai Tillisch

Copenhagen, Denmark

Nicolai helps ambitious people to grow. For him, Cultivating Leadership is a unique opportunity to work with friends, both old and new, with whom he shares his commitment to help leaders thrive in complex times and to effect change for the greater good.

Three of Cultivating Leadership’s ideas that Nicolai finds particularly pivotal for leaders are: (1) adults can develop, and this is an essential factor in how we relate to ourselves, each other, and our surroundings; (2) the complexity around us requires us to sense and think differently than the traditional linear way; and (3) actions are essential for our conscious learning. Nicolai was introduced to variations of these ideas while working as an executive, leading five hundred professionals located around the globe. He experienced the power and necessity first-hand. While Nicolai emphasizes the significance of recent scientific research and practical experience, he whole-heartedly embraces and embodies his colleagues’ compassion, curiosity, and humor.

Nicolai’s professional activities fall into two related categories. First, Nicolai designs and conducts tailor-made interventions with corporate leaders. That work ranges from one-on-one coaching processes with executives to journeys with management teams and boards of directors, to large-scale organizational transformations. He believes in working closely with his clients and colleagues to understand each unique context and its possibilities. Nicolai first undertook training in coaching in 1997, and it has been his profession since 2011. He has multiple  accreditations from the International Coach Federation, including Growth Edge Coaching.

Second, Nicolai has the vision of democratizing developmental methods, which has manifested in various collaborations. Nicolai has co-authored, with Nicolai Chen Nielsen, Return on Ambition: A Radical Approach to Your Achievement, Growth, and Well-Being. Fast Company Press released this bestselling book in January 2021. He is a co-founder of Deliberate Development, a Stockholm-based edtech startup, working together with Stefan Falk and a web of external partners. Their current focus is to launch the StepUpYourDay solution, supporting people’s self-reflection and generating invaluable data for coaching sessions. Nicolai is a board member of Nordic Bildung, a think tank associated with the philosopher Lene Rachel Andersen, who is a co-author of the much-acclaimed book The Nordic Secret: A European Story of Beauty and Freedom.

Nicolai’s experience has evolved on a zigzag path between the traditional left-brain and right-brain spheres. He earned 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 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 a 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 hundreds of professionals around the world. He joined the company in the United Kingdom, later moving to the United Arab Emirates. After his corporate career, Nicolai gained the exclusive license for The Leadership Circle, a provider of developmental leadership assessments, in the Middle East and North Africa and built the business there from 2015 to 2020, in partnership with his wife Ida. They were also responsible for The Leadership Circle in India for three of those years.

Beyond deeply appreciating the immense privilege of working with his extraordinary colleagues and clients,  Nicolai’s heart is first of all with Ida and their children, Margaux and Axel. They enjoy the small things in life: a large family, many friends, and the beauty of nature. They have recently moved to his native Copenhagen in Denmark, after living abroad since the mid-00s.


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