SEAL Team Six founder reflects on leadership, life

By Joe Beck

WINCHESTER — Richard Marcinko brought his unique experience as the founder of Navy SEAL Team Six and comments about the meaning of leadership to a nearly filled lecture hall Friday at Shenandoah University.

Marcinko, 73, was scheduled to speak for four hours to an audience that included police and firefighters and other members of the public.

The bearded, burly Marcinko looked and sounded like the much-decorated combat veteran he is, sprinkling his opinions on a wide range of subjects with profane, unfiltered humor. SEAL Team Six gained notoriety in 2011 when its members killed Osama Bin Laden in his home in Pakistan.

Marcinko served in the Navy from 1958 to 1989 and has since gone on to become the author of several books, a radio talk show host, military consultant and civilian employee at the Pentagon. His latest book, Curse of the Infidel, was published earlier this year. He said he is also a spokesman for a tequila company.

Marcinko’s list of leadership rules included aim before you shoot, break the rules before they break you. He also criticized a culture in some companies that encourages finger pointing and blame shifting and discourages accountability and taking responsibility.

He cited an experience he had on a visit to General Motors as holding a possible clue as to why the company is mired in scandal over a faulty ignition switch. Marcinko, who said his visit did not involve the ignition switch, saw how each designer or engineer was allowed to oversee only a small part of the design or production process.

“The bottom line is that there was no overall responsibility in the design phase,” Marcinko said. “Nobody was responsible from the first rivet until the tires rolled down to the end of the line.

“So whenever there was a screw up, and they had to call up an electrician, he was already working on another line or another product. There was no continuity, and more importantly, no accountability on that product line.”

Regarding breaking the rules, Marcinko told the audience they should be prepared if they are caught.

“If you break the rules, have a book of excuses saying why you did it,” Marcinko said.

Marcinko said he doesn’t smoke but admitted to knowing his way around a shot glass of liquor. His drinking experiences led to musings about how the influence of alcohol can sometimes reveal surprises about someone’s ability to maintain a secret.

“There are guys I never thought they’d say anything, but after three drinks they won’t shut up,” Marcinko said. He added later he was not “a proponent of drinking until you can’t anymore.”

Marcinko’s resume includes a 16-month stint in federal prison on charges of defrauding the government over the price of contractor acquisitions for hand grenades.

“I conspired with myself,” Marcinko said in an interview conducted while he was taking a break from his speech.

“I knew things that were fraudulent,” Marcinko said, “but I didn’t report them. The contractor people, I felt that was their responsibility.”

Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or jbeck@nvdaily.com