Thinking like an owner requires understanding like an owner

The other day, my brother and I had a showdown at the cash register. We both wanted to pay for the purchase. I un-holstered my credit card while he drew a wad of cash. When the dust cleared, my credit card had been swiped and his cash lay silently on the counter.

As we left the store, my brother commented on the cashier, “You can tell that she’s not the owner – the owner would always take the cash.”

My brother is a chef and has run many restaurants including his own. He now runs a catering business. He understands the difference and implications of cash and credit when you are trying to run a business.

My guess is that the cashier had no clue about those differences. She probably assumed that accepting a credit card for the purchase was pretty much the same as accepting cash. Most likely, no one ever told her the difference.

A common cliché among leaders is encouraging their employees to act like owners. Yet I wonder how many of those leaders take the time to give their people the business context needed to act like owners.

Certainly there are some aspects of acting like an owner that don’t’ require a lot of business acumen. Basic fiscal responsibility is more about common sense than business acumen.

However, to really act like an owner, a person must understand how the business works. They need to know the difference between cash and credit. They need to understand how money, information, products, and services flow through the organization. They have to understand how the end-to-end customer experience works. Only then can they truly act like an owner and make good decisions.

As leaders, we can’t expect our people to act if we aren’t willing to invest in the information, motivation, and ability needed to support those actions.

Brad Kolar is the President of Kolar Associates, a leadership consulting and workforce productivity consulting firm. He can be reached at

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