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We’re Fine

By Joey Havens

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Today, it’s very common to hear people greet each other and respond to personal inquiries as, “Fine,” “I’m fine,” “We’re fine.” At the AICPA Major Firms Group meeting in July, I overheard many managing partners and COOs respond to inquiries about their firm with, “We’re fine.” For some reason, it didn’t seem as confident as it might have in the past. There were a few smiles missing. I could feel a little tension and heard a more serious tone, which caught my attention.  It was obvious to me that “We’re fine” had a different context this year. 

What had not changed were the great friendships and social time that we always treasure at these meetings. It’s amazing how many fantastic people and leaders we are blessed with in our profession and families. Out of the blue, in an after-dinner conversation with friends in the hall of our hotel, I connected the dots with the feelings I had earlier in the day when I heard, “We’re fine.” 

I have no idea how the subject even started, but as usual, the best conversations always involve Tonya Stende, who is married to one of the more popular (at least in his mind) managing partners in the MFG. Speaking of popularity, Tonya is at the top of the list and she always shares her contagious positive energy and fun-filled spirit. With an impressive professional background that includes her CPA designation, Tonya found her passion as an executive coach and Dale Carnegie partner. Somehow, our conversation energized around people responding to, “How are you doing?” We were laughing at how everyone simply responds, “Fine,” and they began teasing me because I always respond, “Great!” Tonya then shared with us a nugget on what a quick “Fine” often really means. She shared that FINE stands for “Feelings Internalized Not Expressed.” Immediately, my earlier feelings around the tension and tone of this year’s round of “We’re fine” made sense. 

The MFG program was focused on the transformation of our profession. Why wouldn’t we have a lot of feelings internalized not expressed based on the disruption we see in the future of our profession? Our true north for a continued bright future of relevance and abundance is certainly foggier than ever. Rather than feeling fine, many of us are foggy, anxious, fearful, angry, asleep or worried about the speed, disruption and overall transformation of our profession and firms. For many whom I talked with these two days, “Fine” could very well have been “Fear Instilling Negative Energy.”

Does our ability to have the courage to be more vulnerable when asked about the health of our firm provide for better conversations? Does our profession get stronger if we express more of these internalized feelings?

Let’s move to courageous, determined and anticipatory. Let’s generate a sense of urgency to drive out all complacency and legacy thinking. Let’s shake up the status quo rather than waiting. You don’t feel fine when you have a sense of urgency. You feel some healthy tension. Let’s embrace it.

Our future roles may have some foggy destinations, but they are destinations full of opportunity and abundance if we don’t settle for fine. Let’s be GREAT—Growing, Relevant, Energetic, Anticipatory and Tenacious. And when our clients say, “We’re fine,” that’s our cue to be courageous and ask what that really means for them. Conversations about a redefined reality lead to great client experience and growth. Let’s choose to be GREAT together. It even sounds better. Thanks, Tonya!