What is the difference between "lead," "leading," and "leadership"?

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clairewait's profile pic

clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Lead is a present tense verb and it means to guide or direct in a course of action.  Leading is the gerund of that verb, which essentially acts like a noun in a sentence when combined with "is" or "am."  Example: I am leading a group of scouts on a hike.  "Leading" here is an action but when combined with "is" you should think of it more like an "activity."  What are you doing?  Leading.  Leadership is a noun.  It is the quality or characteristic of being able to lead, or the capacity to do so.

rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

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"Leading" and "leadership" have "lead" as their base word. "Lead" is a present tense verb meaning to cause someone or something to come along, or to be in control of. The past tense of this verb is "led." Unfortunately, you will often see "lead" used incorrectly as a past tense verb, pronounced with a short /e/. This is a confusion with the noun "lead," pronounced with a long /e/, and this error is becoming so frequent that one often sees the mistake even in professional writing. 

"Lead" can also be a noun, as in this sentence: "Our team took the lead in the fifth inning." Here, lead means the head or top position. A "lead" can also be a leash or the person who has the leading role in a production.

"Leading" is the participle form of "lead." As such, it can be part of a verb, an adjective, or a noun. To be a verb, it needs to be paired with an auxiliary or helper verb, such as a form of "to be," as in this sentence: "I am leading our group at the museum." To be an adjective, it needs to modify a noun, as in this sentence: "The leading cause of death in the U.S. is heart disease." To be a noun, or gerund, it must act as the subject or object of a verb, as in this sentence: "Leading requires patience and knowledge."

This last use of "leading" is a synonym for "leadership." Leadership is a noun that means the action of being in control and guiding others. It means performing the role of a leader, as in this sentence: "The success of an organization depends on good leadership." A slight variation of the meaning of this word is that it can refer to the people who have the function of leading others, as in this sentence: "The club's leadership decided to cancel the fundraiser." 


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