Scott Lail: The Way of the Shepherd

Scott Lail - Education by the Sea Speaker, Cleburne Fire Department

This blog series offers a sneak peek into the speakers and sessions at our upcoming annual conference Education by the Sea, May 10-12, 2023, in Port Aransas, Texas.

This week we are profiling Scott Lail, who is on the agenda to speak Friday, May 12, at 12 p.m.

Scott Lail said he’s blessed to be in the best profession in the world. He started in the EMS field because he believed it fit his innate strengths.

“One of my strong personality traits is being selfless and supporting other people,” Lail said. “I enjoy helping people, but it also feels good doing something beneficial for others.”

Lail has spent more than 30 years in his EMS career working in all aspects of the industry: EMS educator, firefighter, flight paramedic, and fire chief. He recently retired from 19 years as a flight paramedic and continues to work as fire chief for the Cleburne Fire Department in Cleburne, Texas.

The “Why” Behind His Topic

Despite more than 10,000 books on leadership on Amazon and more than six billion references to leadership online, Lail said it’s all a waste of time until you find out who you are.

Lail’s session, “The Way of the Shepherd,” is based on the best-selling book of the same name. It shares a leadership philosophy that puts people and their well-being first using the analogy of sheep and a shepherd.

“The book is so amazing, and I feel like it speaks to who I am,” Lail said.

A friend introduced the book to Lail. The seven principles in the Way of the Shepherd may sound simple, but they require a strong commitment from leaders. A few of the seven principles include:

  • Know the condition of your flock (your people)
  • Make your pasture a safe place (your workplace)
  • Help your sheep identify with you (your people share your vision)

Lail later learned of the VIA Character Strengths Survey as part of an FBI class he attended on resiliency, which provides 24 strengths that uniquely make up each person.

“Knowing these helps you figure out who you are and where you need to go,” Lail said. “It may help you figure out things you didn’t realize.”

Takeaways for the Audience

Lail hopes the audience walks away identifying and better understanding themselves. He believes people’s career paths will be easier if they understand themselves and their motivations.

So many times in EMS, leadership is based on who has been there the longest,” Lail said. “There is no formal training, so those people lead like they were led. We need to invest in the future and develop strong leaders.”

In his work environment, for example, Lail tries to provide appreciation and encouragement. “I know it was a tough job, and I truly appreciate their hard work and sacrifice,” he said.

Advice to Those Starting Out in EMS

For those moving into emergency services, Lail says people need to know what the profession is. It’s not all about driving fast and saving babies, he laughed.

“To be in EMS, you have to be in customer service. The service we provide is medical treatment just as firefighters offer protection from fires,” Lail said.

Unfortunately, a lot of people in EMS vacate the field after three to five years, because it wasn’t what they thought. Lail admitted that some calls are horrific, and sometimes people will die. But you strive to walk away knowing you did everything you could.

Future of the Industry

Addressing the mental health and wellness of first responders is an up-and-coming need, according to Lail. He said it must be addressed early so those getting into the field understand. Lail shared a powerful stat from the CDC: Firefighters and police officers are more likely to die by suicide than in the line of duty.

“We can’t take care of others, if we don’t take care of ourselves,” Lail said.


Lail’s top 4 strengths from his VIA Character Strengths Survey results? Love, fairness, leadership, and humor. Lail says he gets nothing for sharing his love of this assessment! You can take the free assessment online, too!

Don’t miss Scott Lail’s session on leadership Friday, May 12, at 12 p.m.

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