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Women In Wellness: “You’re going to have to learn to surrender control” with Cori Lefkowith

You’re going to have to learn to surrender control. I’m still not good at this one! But in order to grow and to really help more people, you can’t do everything yourself. And you have to realize that there will be people you can hire on that can actually do a better job even than you can yourself.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Cori Lefkowith, the owner of Redefining Strength, a fitness and wellness company located in Orange County, California. Through her training programs, she is dedicated to helping people train smarter not just harder. In a fitness culture where more is better, Redefining Strength provides a training resource for the trainer or client looking to overcome all excuses and create a diet and training routine that fits their busy schedule!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

You usually hear people say they’ve made their WORST decisions in life when they’ve had a few drinks…Well I made one of my best.

I graduated college thinking I knew EXACTLY what I wanted to do. And I got my dream internship doing exactly that — working at an athletic conference in sports information.

8 months in I realized I hated it.

I didn’t fully realize how lost I was until one Friday night when Ryan, my husband now, and I were out at a bar in Harvard Square.

I got two Long Island iced teas in me and bust up crying right at the table.

I admitted to Ryan I really didn’t like my job.

His reply was, “Well then what do you want to do?”

That night I realized I wasn’t passionate about writing about sports, but about actually being involved in training athletes and weekend warriors to be able to take on those physical challenges and conquer them.

The very next day, I began looking for any job I could in the fitness industry since I wasn’t certified as a trainer.

About a month later, I had my first job at a gym as a customer service rep, working the front desk. It wasn’t glamorous. I had a few people very disappointed in my decision to “throw away” the career path I’d worked so hard toward for the last few years.

I was told I was taking a step back.

But sometimes you have to take a few steps back to really move forward! And that first job, working the front desk allowed me to gain experience in just about every aspect of gym ownership and training.

It’s the reason I’ve been able to build Redefining Strength into the amazing business it is today!

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

When you get to work with people on a daily basis, it’s hard to pick just one interesting story!

Recently though, I had one of those moments you just have to sort of sit there for a moment and think, “Did that really happen!?!” I was getting to travel to London, Edinburgh and Dublin to do workouts with some of my international clients.

The first Redefining Strength group classes were done in a park and I got in trouble for not having a permit…oh and for not holding my dog’s leash, which I told the officer I would happily do as I did the battle ropes.

But to know those beginnings — the park workouts and a blog only my husband, and maybe a couple of co-workers read — turned into something where I could help and get to know people around the world!

It’s something that makes you just feel so grateful and even more inspired to keep trying to do all you can to help others even more!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I’ve made more mistakes than I can count, besides the one I mentioned above about not realizing I needed a permit to train in that park and they all become amusing to you after you’ve corrected the issues. You have to laugh at what you didn’t know before and all that you’ve learned through even just those errors.

Anyway, the mistake I still laugh at, and shudder at, the most is filming the Redefining Strength 5-Minute Bodyweight Burner DVD to sell with 17 follow along video workouts.

We wanted the backdrop to be super clean and look professional, so we rented a film studio instead of shooting it at my gym. We had the studio for only a few hours so needed to make sure to get all 17 5-minute workouts done quickly back to back.

The thing I didn’t fully consider is that all 17 of these workouts were KILLERS. They were meant to be intense 5-minute burners you could do when you were short on time or to finish your workout.

And the first workout I had to start with was 50 burpees in a row. Yeah…Didn’t think this plan through.

Over the videos you see my face getting progressively redder and in one video I almost face-planted during a push up (thankfully the timer went off right then).

But I underestimated the difficulty of trying to do all 17 workouts back to back while not only performing the moves but also talking and coaching through them.

Let’s just say, the next day I didn’t feel like working out. And to this day I cringe at the idea of having to shoot something like that again in one day!

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

The true human connection.

I’m a trainer first and foremost. When people ask what I do, that’s my answer.

And because of my focus on the training aspect, I want every person I work with or talk with to feel they have someone to go to when they need support.

Making habit changes and healthy lifestyle changes can be scary and intimidating. There is just so much information out there, which can be great in that you can find what works for you, but it can also be overwhelming.

Redefining Strength is that place to find coaching and a community. It’s a place you can share your struggles, get inspired and find the help you need no matter your fitness level.

It’s so easy to lose connection online and not be dealing with a real person there to support you. When you come to Redefining Strength, you’ll be dealing with real people and coaches.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I’ve just launched my Strong Smart Certification and Mastermind.

While I love working with clients one on one, you can only help so many people that way.

So, when your mission is to help as many people lead healthier, happier lives as possible, the best way to do that is to help other coaches grow.

And that’s why I was so excited and passionate about creating a certification, support group and mentorship for trainers in different areas of the industry — whether they were just starting out or had been coaching for decades.

Even coaches need coaches. We all need that outside perspective to help us grow and someone to push us to keep learning.

It’s nice to have a group where you can ask questions and hear the different perspectives. We will never know it all, but with the Strong Smart Certification and Mastermind, I’m hoping we can continue to improve our coaching abilities to bring our best to our clients.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

Don’t be afraid to be called bossy…or well…the not so appropriate B word we often hear when we’re assertive as females.

Be bold. Be assertive. Have a clear vision of what you want and make sure anyone you hire is aware of it.

Anyone who can’t respect that doesn’t belong on your team no matter how talented they may be.

It is key though you don’t confuse being assertive and clear in your vision with thinking you’re always right or your way is the only way.

You want to be open to suggestions and advice, and encourage others with talents different from your own to own the business and work to build it.

A clear vision just helps focus those ideas in the right direction.

Clarity in your vision will help you get the right people on your team that believe in your mission. It will create a team that is working toward the same goals while taking ownership of that vision in their own way.

What advice would you give to other female leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

The more people you have on staff, the more opinions there will be. And the more people thinking someone else will “pick up the slack” if you’re not careful.

That’s why I’ve found one of the most important things to look for in a team member is if they’ll want to take ownership.

Talent is great. But finding someone who believes in the vision and brand and want to work to build it like it was their own? That is priceless.

And it’s not easy to find.

But if you hold out for those people? You’ll end up with a lot fewer “temporary fixes” and even fewer people doing the same amount of work!

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

This question was by far the easiest for me to answer as it takes no thought whatsoever. My husband, Ryan, has always been my biggest supporter and main cheerleader.

He also isn’t afraid to tell me when I’m wrong. He doesn’t just mirror back the image I want to see or say the things I want to hear…sometimes this can be infuriating but well needed!

He constantly challenges me.

One instance of this was when he pushed me start the Redefining Strength Academy. It was going to be something new, unknown and a ton more work.

I felt overwhelmed and wanted to tell him it was a bad idea, even though it was an amazing idea, because I had a lot on my plate at that point.

Instead of course I took a breath, complained to a friend about how Ryan always makes more work for me and I did it.

Because I knew he was right.

And guess what? He was right.

It has turned into an amazing community with some great educational programs.

We all need that person that pushes us to do things we may not want to do!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My vision has always been to help others find empowerment through exercise — to lead healthier, happier lives. I want to help them train smarter, not just harder.

And as Redefining Strength has grown, I’ve been able to reach more people around the globe!

But the RS community that has grown over the years is really what is spreading goodness to the world.

Those caring people have taken my vision and really made it grow. They’re constantly supporting and helping each other through the ups and downs that life throws at us as each of us moves forward on our own fitness journey!

And now with adding a trainer certification and mastermind to the Redefining Strength offerings, I’ll only be able to help other trainers even reach and inspire more people!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Only 5!?! These are 5 of the tips I share with my trainers when they consider starting their own business or even growing their business.

1: Your company has to have a face. If you want to build a business, your business has to have a face or figure that someone can connect with. Most of the time that has to be YOU.

We relate to stories. We want that human connection. We want to know there is truly someone there to help us and support us.

That’s why your business needs a face.

And if you’re like me and originally didn’t want to be in pictures and videos, it can be a shock to realize you’re going to have to put yourself out there if you really want to grow.

The crazy part is, now I do live videos twice a week and post photos daily!

2: You’re going to have to do a ton of stuff you don’t like or feel comfortable with. Often to do what we love, especially when starting out, we have to conquer a lot of other aspects of the business we may never have wanted to think about. Eventually you can grow and hire others on. But to get the right people in the right jobs, you first need to understand the basics of how things work yourself.

When I first started out, I cleaned the gym. It would take me HOURS, but I didn’t have the funds to hire someone on yet. So, I did it.

It did though, show me how I wanted the cleaning to be handled so I could eventually bring someone else in to do it! (Can’t say I miss that task either!)

3: You’re going to have to learn to surrender control. I’m still not good at this one! But in order to grow and to really help more people, you can’t do everything yourself. And you have to realize that there will be people you can hire on that can actually do a better job even than you can yourself.

The first time I ever really had to surrender control was when I traveled to Cuba.

Cuba’s internet is…well…non-existent. I could get on for maybe about an hour, or two, in total each day. And we were in Cuba for almost a week.

That doesn’t really allow you to run an online business. And I didn’t realize it was going to be that bad before going because our apartment supposedly had internet.

Yup…it didn’t.

That meant I had to trust my, then very new, assistant to run things at the gym AND even help me reply to customer service messages.

I didn’t have any choice but to surrender control. It wasn’t easy, and I may have cursed at her a couple of times in panic but now there are certain aspects of my business I don’t manage the day to day of and instead just supervise.

It allows me to get even more done!

4: It will be a constant balancing act. I hear people talk about finding a work-life balance. But there is never really balance, especially when you do what you love and own your own business. It’s constantly an act of balance.

My job has allowed me to travel whenever I want. Take off randomly midday to play a game of ping pong with Ryan. Or take Kiwi to the dog beach (Kiwi is our crazy Bichon at the end of every video).

But there will also be weeks I think I’ve worked more than humanly possible.

If you love what you do though, it will drive you to always put in that extra effort! So, if you aren’t willing to do whatever is necessary, work when you maybe don’t want to, you probably don’t want to pursue that career or business!

5: Haters gonna hate. Ok most of us have heard this phrase. And I knew going in there would be people that wouldn’t agree with me or like me. But I always warn my trainers, especially those wanting to build an online business, to be prepared for opinions you never wanted to know.

I also tell them something I wish I’d known right to start — Do not feed the trolls.

I would get into debates sometimes with people that would criticize. But you soon realize there are just those people that aren’t really looking to learn or get help. They just aren’t happy and want to bring you down.

It’s key you realize the difference between someone open to learning and those that just want to be trolls!

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

This is exactly why I started the Strong Smart Certification and Mastermind. The more trainers that join the more we can all change people’s lives together.

We can help them train smarter and not just harder so they can achieve the results they’ve always dreamed of!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Act as if.”

We often talk about attitude influencing actions. But our actions can influence our attitude.

If you want to succeed, you’ve got to act like you are successful. This doesn’t mean bragging or boasting or acting too big for your breeches. It means acting confident. It means repeating the habits or actions you would take if you were successful already.

I started realizing the power of “acting as if” in college. I was the lowest recruit for the Boston University Division I tennis team my year.

My coach didn’t really even want me — the assistant coach did.

I could have shrugged, not cared and figured I wasn’t going to play. I could have acted as if I didn’t deserve a spot.

But instead I “acted as if” I was the top player. I trained like it. Practiced like it. I didn’t acknowledge that I wasn’t technically the top recruit.

And guess what? I played every single year.

I even had one of the best records on the team and played above a recruit ranked far higher than me coming in.

It’s all because I acted as if I could do it and the attitude followed my actions.

I’ve carried this attitude on even now into my business.

When I first started out, I’d never written a program for an online client. But when one of my blog readers asked if I offered online programs?

I “acted as if” and confidently told her YES. I had never created an online program before, but knew if I didn’t take the risk, I’d never learn.

Over 5 years later, she’s still training with me online.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)

When I first was dabbling in fitness reading any fitness magazine I could, I saw a profile on Jamie Eason.

She was cute, spunky and just had such a great attitude, overcoming her own health obstacles to become World’s Fittest Model and inspire others on their own health and fitness journeys.

She’s not only a fitness icon but a badass business woman!

Thank you for all of these great insights!



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Authority Magazine is devoted to sharing in-depth interviews, featuring people who are authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech