Exercise | February 2004 (Revised April 2005)

Necessary Evils: A Diagnostic Exercise

by Joshua D. Margolis and Andrew Molinsky


Central to the work of leaders and professionals are tasks that entail harming one party to deliver benefits or advance valued and worthy goals. Sometimes a person must, as part of his or her job, perform an act that causes emotional, material, or physical harm to another human being in the service of achieving a greater good or purpose. Examples in management include firing people, laying people off, delivering bad news, delivering negative performance feedback, and, in medicine, performing a painful procedure. Through a series of introspective questions, punctuated by small group discussions and concluding with a large group discussion of insights, students and practicing professionals are better equipped to manage the challenges of necessary evils.

Keywords: Decision Choices and Conditions; Leadership; Problems and Challenges; Ethics; Management Skills;


Margolis, Joshua D., and Andrew Molinsky. "Necessary Evils: A Diagnostic Exercise." Harvard Business School Exercise 404-027, February 2004. (Revised April 2005.)