What is "acting like an owner"?

In almost every job I've had -- from Staples in high school to WorkHabit now -- someone's told me to "act like an owner." It's this big push about building company culture and getting employees to do more than clock in at 8 and clock out at 5, there are at least a few books written on it. I'm not exactly sure where I stand on this concept, but I'm leaning toward "it's total BS." First, I don't have access to the company's books or cashflow, so any financial decisions are right out the window. I don't have access to client projects that aren't mine, so decisions about those are out. I don't have any legal authority, so contracts are out.

So think about it: with financials, contracts, and 90% of projects completely unavailable, what does "act like an owner" even mean?

At Staples, it meant do things thoroughly. Pick up trash when you see it. Replace price tags when they're gone. Stock shelves when they're empty, and above all, make the customer happy. In engineering, I think it means taking responsibility for your part of the project and doing your best to help others stay on track. Call out blockers quickly, write amazing code, and keep the business purpose in mind when you're in the weeds. Work extra hours when you need to. Take spare time and help build processes that help your business succeed.

These things, however, are not "acting like an owner." I can't think of any time the CEO of Staples picked up trash on the salesfloor or personally helped a random customer. This isn't criticism; this is just reality. In reality, a business requires many different roles working together to steer the ship in the right direction. Captain Picard never got on Geordi's case for not "acting like a captain." Geordi acted like an engineer -- granted, the best engineer in the history of the fleet (except for Scotty). Geordi's directive was to be the best engineer and officer that he could be, because his job facilitates everyone else's.

In the same way, I think salespeople should be the best salespeople they can, engineers should be the best engineers they can, project manager should manage the crap out of projects -- all with the understanding that we all are driving the same ship together. It's like we're all parts of the same body, and the body can't function without all its parts working in harmony. Just because one part is less visible (an eye versus a liver, for example) doesn't mean one is less important than the other. A store can't operate without stockers, an engineering shop can't run without salespeople, and so forth.

I think the real lesson is that everyone is important in their own way, and every role has to facilitate everyone else's. Since we're all supporting each other, everyone needs to pull their own weight or ideally overdeliver. When the ship sails smoothly, everyone benefits.

So don't worry about "acting like an owner." Worry about doing your job in the best, most efficient, most game-changing way you can. Help your coworkers, because they depend on you (and you depend on them). Be responsible for your work and take on responsibilities that help your ship run as smoothly as it can.