Please note: This is a translated version of an article originally written by Tereza Považanová, web editor, Forbes Slovakia. You can access the original Forbes article here.
Even the most influential people sought her help. However, she changed direction and today she helps women in business. Lenka Lutonska left Slovakia with a few pounds in her pocket. At that time she was only 19 years old and lacked confidence. From cleaning the tables in McDonald's, UK, she has worked her way up to become the CEO of a successful business. Even the efforts of a corporate psychopath could not destroy it. Her business was brought to the ground and her confidence suffered but failure didn’t enter her mind. She rebuilt herself and her business and today, she helps people to create an extraordinary business, impact and the financial freedom they want. Because, as she says, you only achieve real success when you throw away fearful thoughts and start believing in yourself fully.
She once did not believe in herself, even developed bulimia and anorexia. But as she says, Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) has turned her life, mindset and thinking around. After completing the highest level of NLP training, Lenka became an accredited Master Trainer. She left the fast food company and set out on a journey to achieve her dream. She taught directors of large companies, scientists from Cambridge University, doctors and mothers how to build self-confidence and communication skills.
What is NLP?
- In the 1970s, Richard Bandler and Professor John Grinder laid the foundations of Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). They both studied psychology.
- The principle is based on the connection of neurological processes and language with patterns of behavior (programming).
- It examines what language our body and mind use to understand the data they receive from the nervous system and what our behavior is as a result.
- As Lenka says, it is an instruction manual for our mind - a set of processes that can be used in sales, marketing and also in business or private communication. It can help us be better speakers, happier and more productive people.
Today, Lenka no longer teaches NLP but she has created her own programmes, partially based on the principles of NLP. Until recently, Lenka has coached women to success, showing them the way to build a successful 6 or 7-figure business with ease. Her approach connects psychology, energy work and intuition with business and marketing strategy.
In her book, Energetic Selling and Marketing, she combines knowledge from neuro-linguistics and psychology with her own experience, intuition and the world of business.
However, Lenka went through difficult obstacles to get there. How did she get back on her feet and what advice would she give to others? Lenka Lutonska told Forbes Slovakia about her journey and building a business from scratch, about meeting a corporate psychopath and about how to combine a successful business with caring for a family of five.
How to differentiate yourself from others
Have you considered translating your book into Slovak language and expanding it to our market as well?
Certainly, yes. I must say that a lot of clients from Slovakia and the Czech Republic have come to me about this, which pleasantly surprises me.
What nationalities are most of your clients?
I am mostly serving clientele from Britain and Europe in general. About 20 percent are clients from the US and about 5 percent are from Australia.
Lenka with her family. Photo: archive of Lenka Lutonska.
How are you different from others? Today, there are many courses in the online space.
My view is that the person behind the business is the difference. So you need to be authentic and put your own essence into your business. Even if two people do the same thing, the difference is how they do it in their own unique way. You need to conduct business creatively. I don't think the difference needs to be sought by force - we become aware of the difference as we serve others and naturally attract people with whom we resonate.
She left for Britain to escape
What were your beginnings? Why did you actually leave Slovakia?
There was nothing poetic about it - I was young and needed a change. I come from a generation in which your parents choose, without question, what you should study. They put me into college studying economics and expected, of course, for me to go to University. I graduated with straight A’s but I refused to go to University. I realized I wouldn't enjoy it.
My father was very strict with me, I was only allowed to come home with excellent school results. I know he tried to raise me well but we had a hard relationship. I was unhappy and lacked confidence. That's partially why I became bulimic and anorexic. You could say that I fled to England from "duties”, and from myself. I needed to clear my head.
I was only supposed to go for a few months as an au-pair but it was not for me. So, I went my own way. I started working at McDonald's - initially I cleaned tables. Over the years, I reached a managerial position there.
How did you get from McDonald's to NLP?
I knew the job at McDonald's was only temporary. Counseling and psychology were close to my heart so I found a course accredited by Oxford University. I studied it for two years - the fields I studied were counseling, hypnotherapy and psychotherapy. However, I found out that the course was not accredited after all, so I had nothing substantial in my hands again. I started looking for a shorter path than the academic studies.
That's when I discovered the NLP course. I fell in love with it right from the start. The intensive seven-day course gave me more than the full two years of study previously. At that time, I already knew what I wanted to do.
She sold everything for her dream
It sounds simple, but it certainly wasn't. How did it go?
It was October 2007. I sold the house so I could afford the NLP training. I completed all levels of the NLP training in the UK within 1 year and completed my highest level in Australia.
The final evaluation is organized by the American Board of NLP, which is the largest and most recognised accreditation body of NLP. It is done only a few times a year in the USA or Australia. After that evaluation, you will gain accreditation to coach and train others in these techniques.
So you sold all your assets to be able to afford the course?
I had been in the UK for 7 years by then. During that time, I saved money and my friend and I bought a house. When I discovered how amazing NLP is, I sold everything - the house and the car. And then the property market fell, so I just made it in time.
The course was expensive, but worth it. I needed a lot of courage. At that time I met Tomáš, my husband. He was very supportive of me in everything I wanted to do. When I sold the house, I moved in with him. We had been together for about a year then. The coincidence of how it all fell into place still amazes me.
Motivation in difficult beginnings
Did you started building your business right away then?
Yes. I left McDonald's. I was brave and naive. I didn't know anything about business. I had a website made, I thought that was enough. But the first two years were difficult. I had to learn a lot and it took me a long time to build a clientele. I did what I could, free workshops, etc…
Lenka hosting a luxury business event for women. Photo: archive of Lenka Lutonska.
Did you work elsewhere?
I didn't want to go back to work full time so I could devote myself fully to my business. Instead, I found an evening job. I was taking care of a disabled woman to be able to afford a basic living.
What motivated you? It's definitely not easy to decide to sell everything, leave work and fully immerse yourself in business.
I admit, in the beginning it was mainly the naivety of youth. I had nothing to lose, I had no children and no solid foundations where I lived. I lost my house. But it was just a house. Creating a successful business on my own terms appealed to me. Conducting a business delivering NLP coaching and training incorporated everything I always wanted at that time. It never even occurred to me that I wouldn’t make it successful eventually.
Maybe that's why you are successful today, because you believed it and never concentrated on failure…
Certainly, yes. And when the business finally started turning profits, everything was great. Tomas and I started a family - now we have three children. I had fulfilled my business dream but after six years I lost it all. In a few months, I lost everything I had built.
And then came a hard fall…
So the first two years were the foundation stage of your business, the next four you ran a successful business. Where did it all turn wrong?
At that time, I wanted to grow the business further. I worked with different people. I also did trainings in large corporate companies. And that's where I wanted to expand more. At that time, a person who had a lot of experience with corporate training offered to help me out. He mentored me and after a while we started to build a joined venture together. But he turned out to be a corporate psychopath. It was like a horror movie. I didn't know what he was up to but it turned out he just wanted to destroy me.
Wasn't he interested in earning money off your efforts?
No, he just wanted to destroy me personally. It came suddenly, everything happened within a year. He manipulated me, changed the way I was thinking. I started to lose everything to do with business - the website, the clientele, the whole business slowly… Then it clicked for me - he was doing it all. I thought we were building a business together but in reality we never really got started. I couldn't get over it. First of all, I was very ashamed - how could I allow myself to be manipulated like this?
"I thought I could destroy you."
It takes something for a person to have the ability to manipulate another in this way...
He was a corporate psychopath. At first I couldn't connect all the dots. If I told you all the details and circumstances, it would be enough for a full-length thriller.
When I called him for the very last time, he said to me, “At some point I thought I will be able to break you. And I almost succeeded." That was our last conversation. I don't know why, I never found out. That experience really did almost break me.
There are several studies on this phenomenon. Corporate psychopaths make up about 1 percent of the population. They are charismatic and look like good colleagues or managers who want to help you. But they have no inhibitions or remorse. They are extremely good liars and manipulators. They create chaos around them, which they use to their advantage.]
A huge personal crisis arrived. I was at the bottom and I lost faith in myself. I knew I wanted to rebuild the business. But with this horrid experience, it was much harder.
I was trying to figure out why this was happening, so I started reading literature on corporate psychopaths. That's when I realized that I had probably encountered something like this. Apparently I was just standing in his way.
It took me a long time to get over it. I devoted all my time to business but almost without any success. The first two years were terrible, my husband and I also had a crisis. We were living only on his salary. He started to blame me for being selfish and not thinking about our family. His words hurt me. Until then, he had supported me but he could no longer continue like that.
I later realized that his behavior reflected my mindset. I didn't believe in myself, that's why he didn't believe either. I lacked the courage I had had in the beginning.
Then came a few key moments that gave me courage. These were the beginnings of the new business. It is completely different from the first one, much more authentic. If these had not have happened, I would never have built such a successful business as I have today.
Mother of three children and a businesswoman
How do you manage a family - caring for 3 children - in addition to running a successful business?
First of all - I have an absolutely amazing husband. When our youngest son was born, I was in the early stages of my current online business. That's when we decided it would be better if my husband stayed home and took care of our family.
I wouldn't change it. He took over some stereotypical female "roles" and supports me in business. He creates a solid foundation for us all. Well, I don't overdo it with work either, I try to be with my family as much as possible. I have boundaries and say yes only to what I want and not to what I “should” say yes to.
How does your husband manage to do women's work while you are building a career? Men can often feel funny about this…
Not every man would do it but Tomas knows himself and his value. He knows who he is and he enjoys it. That’s important. Also for him, the family is his top priority. He sees it as a reflection of himself.
Even though he doesn't work with me in the business, everything is connected. It is all about our cooperation and without it I would not have been able to be where I am today.
How Lenka has learned to stand on her own two feet
After the experience with a corporate psychopath, when did everything start to change for the better? What happened?
There were two key moments. I was looking for the main direction of my business. I used to work with a huge range of people - doctors, mothers, directors, so I couldn't figure out who or what to focus on in my head. Then, one day, I lay in the garden and thought about everything again. A question occurred to me: If you weren't worried about what people think of you, how would you like to create and run your business? And at that moment, all the answers I was looking for came to mind just like that.
I connected with something called "beyond the mind" - only behind the fear that is happening in our heads are the answers we are looking for.
What is the difference between your first and second business?
I found that I wanted to combine spirituality, energy and intuition with business strategy - and not be ashamed of it. That was actually the beginning of Energetic Selling and Marketing.
Previously, I had worked with others on a mental and emotional level i.e. with NLP and practical psychology. I didn’t want to go into "spiritual" or intuitive thinking because I didn't want to lose credibility. I thought no one would take me seriously, therefore I didn't even consider including it in my business.
So I already knew what I wanted to do, I just had to gain the courage. I was afraid, of course, how people would receive it, what they would think of it.
It took a quick turn for the better
What first steps did you take after this idea landed?
I began to act right away. I already knew what programme I wanted to offer and to whom. At that time, I went to networking events as a speaker. I offered it to the audience at these events.
I still remember the sparkle in their eyes and the curiosity that was shining through them. These were events for women in business. I filled up all the spots for the programme within 2 weeks. It was so easy, I couldn’t comprehend what had suddenly happened.
"It takes a lot of courage to succeed. Take the steps you are afraid to take and you will soon find out you are still here… just more successful than you were yesterday. “ advises entrepreneur Lenka Lutonska. Photo: archive of the Lenka Lutonska.
What were the next steps that helped you succeed?
Another key event came when I decided to move into the online environment. I was encouraged to do so by a photo taken with a client I had coached. She stood upright and confident but I made myself subconsciously smaller. I realized that my posture reflected my attitude.
That's when I said to myself that I had to take more risks and stop thinking small. The next step terrified me but I knew I had to take it. Until then, I had only done in-person trainings, networking and organized local events. I closed the doors to everything and went online.
In April 2015, I started a group on Facebook and invited the women who had gone to my events to join the group. I added many free training sessions there, for example, in practical psychology and business, I created competitions and valuable content. I gave from my heart. Within three months, it began to grow rapidly.
It is necessary to give but also to ask
When you were giving free content, what were your earnings consisting of?
I told myself I would give but I would also ask. I started offering coaching and group programs in the said group.
I offered the first version of my group programme, Extraordinary Growth Academy, that I created and structured so that it helps others in the most profound way. We launch it twice a year. The first time round, I had 8 people enrolled there and since then, just a few women short of 500 have joined this programme.
In addition, I offered personal coaching for business and confidence building. From there, it started to develop and I built my business to what it is today.
Lenka Lutonska during one of her events. Photo: archive of the Lenka Lutonska.
What is the secret of your success?
First and foremost, exactly the same thing I teach my clients - to use and listen to our intuition. Because we subconsciously know what we should do, we just have to listen to intuition and not be afraid to take the action towards our dreams. It always paid off for me.
You have to have the courage to apply these intuitive ideas, but you need to act quickly - because the longer you leave it, the more likely you are to talk yourself out of it. The more we think, the more we delve into analyzing and overthinking why it doesn't make sense, how risky it is, and so on...
I also mention one study in my book, which was carried out on 13,000 entrepreneurs and managers from nine countries. And they attribute 80 percent of their success to their intuition. So it is already pretty well documented. It's not just my fabrication (laughs).
What hinders us in business
So we are most hindered by talking ourselves out of it, overthinking it and focusing on risks?
There are two parts of our mind - the left hemisphere is connected to all we know, logic, knowledge, experience, past, trends. The right hemisphere is connected to creative thinking and corresponds to our "higher”, intuitive mind. This aspect of our mind is not influenced by experience and the past. We need to focus more on it and trust it.
How to work on your intuitive mind:
1. Offload: Get all your thoughts out on a paper. What are you afraid of? Clear your head. And then acknowledge that what you wrote on the paper is not fact. It's just your thoughts and fears, an energy interacting with you. Once you acknowledge it, you will be more empowered to release those thoughts, opening up your energy to intuitive ideas from the higher mind.
2. Close your eyes and imagine your goal - for example, a successful business in full bloom. Everything we imagine carries some emotion.
3. When you feel that emotion, ask yourself: What should I do about it? Your intuition will tell you, if not there and then, certainly later. Just listen to it.
4. And then, apply these inspiring ideas as soon as possible.
Has this ever not worked for you and created a problem?
There is only one reason why it sometimes doesn't work - when we listen to intuition and are emotionally or energetically low. For example, when we are desperate, in the energy of lack or we feel bad and we are desperately looking for an answer.
If that’s the case, then don't follow that intuition. You can get an idea but it will always be an exact match to how you feel at that time. And in this case, it won't do you any good.
You could say it's intuitive entrepreneurship.
Yes, you can say that intuition brought me everything, including clients, and is what I have built my whole business on.
What are your next plans for the future?
I used to run NLP training twice a year and accredit new NLP coaches. I had my last training in March last year. I wanted to build on my own coaching programmes.
Some roots are from NLP, the rest is based on the experience and knowledge I have collected over the last few years, and energetics.
The basis of success
So to sum it up, what advice would you give to start-up entrepreneurs?
If you really want something, you need to believe that it is so. That it is impossible for, whatever you dream of, to fail - one needs to embody that attitude. ‘I want it and I'm going for it.’
The second thing - listening to your intuition.
The third thing - take risks, in spite of your fears. It takes a lot of courage to succeed. Take the steps you are afraid to take and you will soon find out you are still here… just more successful than yesterday.
And the last thing is to surround yourself with people who help you to move you forward and light you up.