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Dr. Vanessa Akhtar


With a doctorate in Sport & Performance Psychology and over a decade of consulting experience, Dr. Vanessa Akhtar has built her career on optimizing human performance. She has worked with organizations around the globe, spanning a variety of industries – including oil & energy, healthcare, education, pharmaceuticals, non-profits, consumer products, advertising and philanthropic foundations. Previously, she taught at Boston University and worked with teams, coaches and athletes – ranging from youth through to professional and Olympic-level – to help individuals reach the top of their game.

As a Director at Kotter, Vanessa has two main areas of focus. She works on our most complex engagements, walking alongside clients in their transformation efforts. Additionally, she collaborates with Dr. John Kotter and a core team to drive our Research + Development efforts. She is passionate about helping individuals, teams and organizations thrive – through the use of research-backed, human-centric approaches.

Vanessa is based out of the Cambridge, MA office.


What challenges do you most enjoy helping your clients solve?

It’s less about the specific challenge for me. Anything that requires people to change their behaviors to drive better outcomes and create a better place to work gets me energized. What’s most enjoyable for me is when I get to work with senior leaders who are deeply invested in the work, and open to really push themselves to show up and lead in new ways.

Flashback to when you were 10 years old. What do you want to be when you grow up?

A stuntwoman. I was a serious gymnast at the time and was pretty much fearless. My mom wasn’t so excited about the danger associated with that career path, to say the least.

What are your superpowers?

Empathy (which allows me to build trusting, authentic relationships), organization (oh-so-exciting, right?), and my ability to stay calm even in the most challenging situations.

What’s got you thinking right now?

Carrying through from our research and writing of our most recent book, Change, I’m continually interested in how human nature impacts how people react to, experience, and lead through the complexity and uncertainty we’re all facing every single day. This thinking has expanded beyond just our work with clients, and colors so much of how I view the world and my own experiences in it.

Share something about you that would most surprise people.

I absolutely love to read as a way to wind down, even though I have dyslexia.