Billy Keyserling

Lesson’s in Leadership from Beaufort’s outgoing Mayor, Billy Keyserling.

By Lucy Rosen

A native Beaufortonian, former mayor Billy Keyserling knows a lot about Beaufort, a lot about public service and a whole lot about leadership. As Beaufort’s mayor for the past 12 years (he was elected mayor in 2008, and faced no opposition in 2012 and 2016), and with an additional four years prior to that spent serving on the Beaufort City Council, he has successfully led Beaufort through more than a decade of growth, helping to lead teams, foster partnerships and build strong relationships throughout the Lowcountry. 

His years of experience in both Washington, D.C., and South Carolina public service (he spent almost 16 years working on and around Capitol Hill and served two terms in the S.C. House of Representatives where he was vice chair of the Joint Legislative Committee on Energy and chair of the Beaufort County Legislative Delegation) have given him tremendous insight into effective leadership strategies, as well as the challenges many leaders today face. His leadership has been behind some of Beaufort’s most significant growth throughout his three terms as mayor.

When it comes to leadership, one of the concepts Mayor Billy stresses the most is that “leading is listening” and that decision-making and policy needs to be a team sport, and not driven by one person. 

“Effective leadership isn’t a team of one but is a team of many, with everyone needing to feel ownership,” he stresses. “People need to understand that a good leader has to develop processes to make sure everyone is at the table, and that all members of the leadership team have an opportunity to be heard and, equally as important, to hear. Policies are developed by building consensus, and it can’t be just one voice. The skills of leading by listening involve finding common elements among different people and starting with that is the core to making decisions, so that everyone feels like they had a voice and will work seamlessly as a team, and that no one feels like they weren’t heard.”

Local leader With decades of leadership experience, Billy Keyserling stresses the power of listening and the importance of being a team player as keys to being a good leader. 

Mayor Billy also points to the idea that leadership needs to be taught, noting that “we often start with the assumption that the leader is the spokesperson, but what needs to be taught is that he or she is not just speaking for themselves but speaking for the team or the body of the group that they are leading,” he says. “Sometimes, when we get into leadership positions, we find ourselves in a position of mediation more than leadership.” In addition, his decades of leadership experience also enabled him to make some observations about leadership styles and some of the things he’s noted through the years – including women’s leadership.

“In my observation, women are more open to listening and less bound by the way things have been done in the past, meaning they didn’t get the training of ‘I know better,’” he notes. “Women come in fresh in leadership roles, and don’t have to unlearn bad lessons. Rather, they can learn by talking to each other, which is what good leadership is really all about.” 

What does Mayor Billy look for in other leaders, and what qualities does he feel today’s leaders should have? “It truly is the ability to be a player on the team, and not act as the team alone,” he stresses. “The best way to do that is to listen, and to use the power of listening to find the common elements in everyone’s conversation to achieve what the team wants.”

As Mayor Billy moves on from his role as mayor after deciding not to run for re-election this year, he’s already committed to his next calling: building a network of teachers and students that is going to insert an important missing piece of American history, which is the Reconstruction era. You can read more about it by buying SharingCommonground.com on Amazon.com.

Lifetime local – Billy Keyserling led Beaufort through more than a decade of growth, helping to lead teams, foster partnerships and build strong relationships throughout the Lowcountry. 

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