The Code

How to Speak Truth to Power Work 

In the epoch of a global crisis, when uncertainty reigns supreme, workers fear job cuts, and reopening offices are driven by ambitious business mandates that may lead to increased ethical misconduct and harassment, The Conscience Code by G. Richard Shell, the Chair of Wharton’s Legal Studies and Business Ethics Department, offers actionable strategies to help you fight for your values in the twenty-first century workplace. This article offers a quick summary and review of this latest book from one of our senior Wharton professors. 

Prior to the pandemic, Shell says, surveys showed that roughly 40% of workers reported observing misconduct at work in a given year and 25% were pressured to become complicit in misdeeds. Will the return to offices bring a new spike in these statistics? Shell thinks there is a “good chance it will.”

Shell’s prior books on negotiation (Bargaining for Advantage) and success (Springboard), are well-known to Wharton audiences. He describes his latest work this way: “This book brings everything I know about effective negotiation and persuasion to the table to help people deal with the most important conflicts of all—the ones over core values such as honesty, personal dignity, fairness, and justice when the pressure is on to look the other way. These conflicts do not come every day, but when they do you had better be prepared. They are the true tests of your character.”

Below you will find a quick overview the book, which takes readers on a research-based, four-stage journey that illuminates the way these conflicts unfold. What the article cannot do is describe the stories and tactical nuances that Shell uses to outline the path. As Shell commented in an interview with The Wharton Journal, “The book’s goal is to inspire readers to lead with their values, becoming forces for good who help create nurturing and productive work environments in which office bullying, ethical shortcuts, and harassment are replaced with principles of transparency and fairness.”

The journey starts with recognizing that you face something more than just a disagreement over office behavior, strategy, or execution.  You must be willing to see that important values and principles are at risk in a dispute, even if it is inconvenient or anxiety-provoking to do so.  The journey continues as you “own” the situation and take responsibility for it, then decide what to do, and finally take action.  Shell explained that a simple way to remember this journey is with a metaphor from air combat tactics: the OODA Loop.  Like fighter pilots, Shell says, advocates for workplace values must Observe, Own, Decide, and Act – and then “Loop” back to adjust and respond based on the options that emerge.

Step 1: Observe and Face the Conflict

As Shell says in Chapter 1, “When you turn toward the problem instead of away from it, you challenge yourself to become part of the solution.”

It is common to look away when you witness a misconduct that does not directly impact you. It is even more common to ignore an issue just to avoid challenging the status quo, leading to sub-optimal results in terms of creativity, productivity, and job satisfaction. ‘Ethical refugees’ choose to depart from a workplace that is devoid of ethics checks, resulting in a stampede of the best talent leaving the firm. 

But is fleeing from the conflict always the right decision? What is the guarantee that the next destination will not present similar problems? Facing the challenge head-on may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is usually the right thing. You will feel better about yourself, building confidence as a leader.  What’s more, standing up for your core values often empowers others to do the same thing, rallying like-minded co-workers into an effective coalition.

Shell notes a surprising fact: “otherwise troubling emotions such as anger, guilt, and shame can play positive roles in motivating you to take action. It is really a question of channeling your moral outrage constructively and recognizing that taking action now can avoid painful feelings of guilt or shame that may arise later if you look away.”  

Finally, Shell advises his readers to become familiar with the pressures that can make speaking truth to power hard (and inspire rationalizations to do nothing), including peer pressure, pressures from bosses, the power of perverse incentives, and the expectations that come with corporate roles we may occupy. In his book, Shell quotes the whistleblower who helped bring to light the massive Enron corporate accounting scandal in 2001, Sherron Watkins. She once said that all you need to create an ethical crisis in an organization are three things: pressure, opportunity, and a face-saving rationalization. The first step in being a leader for your values is recognizing this pattern so you do not get caught in its web.

Step 2: Own the Situation – Take Responsibility

With awareness of the difficulties that obscure justice and fairness, one is better prepared to stand up for one’s core values. The second section of the book offers valuable insights for ‘taming’ fear and harnessing courage so you can lean into the conflict.  Shell notes that the greatest enemy of character is rationalization.

“Even bad people think well of themselves,” he says. Thus, a boss or colleague who is pressuring you to do something wrong very likely believes that they are nevertheless a good person. “This requires them to be adept at various forms of self-deception, especially denial and rationalization” (Shell 73).  He encourages readers to recognize the most common rationalizations that can beguile you into going along with misconduct you know to be wrong, such as “everybody does it,” “just this once,” “I have no choice,” and “nobody will notice.”

A second barrier to speaking up is having a conflict-averse personality. Shell provides a useful Conflict Attitudes Assessment to help readers identify their personal conflict styles, which in turn provides a deeper understanding of personality strengths that can be leveraged in making ‘speaking up for the right reasons’ an easier quest.

One of the key insights in the book is what Shell called “The Power of Two.”  Never take on a values conflict alone. As he writes, “Working with others in support of a cause increases everyone’s courage and confidence” (Shell 133).  The Power of Two is a powerful way to overcome personality-based barriers and push rationalizations to the side so you can take effective action.

Step 3: Decide to Act

In the third section of the book, Shell introduces four time-tested decision factors that have helped people make tough choices in social dilemmas for centuries. These mirror the traditional content of business ethics courses, but present them in actionable form as the “CLIP” factors. These are a set of four questions to help you uncover 1) potential consequences of a decision, 2) issues related to conflicting loyalties, 3) identity-affecting concerns (“Who will I be if I refuse to take action in this situation?”), and 4) the core principles you hold that must be upheld.

Step 4: Take Action, Then Adjust Based on the Response 

The final step on the journey is to take effective action to protect your values. This section of the book presents a detailed set of alternatives that apply in every organizational setting. As an expert in negotiation and persuasion, Shell presents examples of good dialogue techniques that include asking good questions, careful listening, reframing the problem so others can understand it in their terms, providing the other party with the arguments and information they need to persuade themselves. 

Shell demonstrates how it possible to transform conflicts into collaborations by aligning principles and incentives for the most appropriate outcome.

When dialogue fails, other tactics may be pertinent. As Shell puts it, “These include elevating an issue to higher levels of authority, reporting misconduct to appropriate tribunals, using political pressure to motivate change, and, that most dramatic of all moves—whistleblowing” (Shell 10). The central idea is to promote accountability that serves as a ‘wake-up call’ when ethical standards are compromised. 

The final chapter of the book is a call for committed, integrity-based leadership, coaxing you to be the leader who is a patron of value-based work culture in which morale, productivity and trust thrive. Shell points out that it is not only about doing things right (duty-of-care values), but also about doing the right thing (ethical values) and being the right kind of person (character values). 


This short article provides only a high-level overview of the contents of The Conscience Code, but rest assured that the book that is a storehouse of compelling real-world examples and stories. As anyone who has read one of his other books knows, Richard Shell collects and integrates research with vivid examples of people from diverse backgrounds and experiences—then creates frameworks that are roadmaps for action. His books are often several books rolled into one, and this one is no exception. 

To sum up: this book from the author of the Springboard, the book that is the backbone of the Wharton School’s renowned P3 program, provides great insights into the concept of responsible leadership. It presents compelling talking points for professionals of all age groups, and I highly recommend it for young professionals, especially those considering career advancement through MBA and other leadership development programs.

John’s Quarantine Life

It has been a wild couple of months, but I have been trying to make the most of quarantine life! I spent the first several weeks after spring break hunkering down with my wife, Ji Won, in Rittenhouse trying to adapt to the new normal. After realizing how impossible it was to be socially distant running along the Schuylkill River, I started stepping up my stay-at-home workout game (while baking lots of banana bread to counterbalance these workouts, of course). I (unsuccessfully) tried to foster a puppy, did a million Zoom happy hours (including one Zoom bachelor party) and even gave myself a quarantine haircut (yikes)!


Once I got a bit stir crazy, I fled to the mountains of Western Pennsylvania with a few fellow Whartonites. We enjoyed the great outdoors, procrastinated studying for finals, and went hiking in the beauty of the Allegheny National Forest.


After enjoying our cabin in the woods for a while, I embarked on the 10 hours down to be with my family in North Carolina. My two brothers, our significant others, and my parents are all hunkering down until further notice as I start my virtual internship.


‘Risk Worth Taking’- Story of Sheyda Bautista-Saeyan, WG’20

Did you ever dare to keep going even when you needed a break? Did you ever step out of your comfort zone to try something new? Did you ever dare to tell your ‘authentic’ story to a stranger without the fear of being judged?


Not many of the readers could answer ‘yes’ to all the questions above; but I know someone who would. In an MBA program, in which the ‘community’ is so important, one obviously gets familiar with the names of the active members and contributors, and that’s how I got to know Sheyda Bautista-Saeyan. A Student Life Fellow, an Admissions Fellow, and a proactive member of different clubs and affinity groups, Sheyda’s story will not fail to inspire you. I had the opportunity to hear about the thrilling Wharton journey of this ‘Class of 2020 Graduation Ceremony Student Speaker’, over a short interview, an interview which reinstated my faith in the culture of the Wharton community in which we trust each other with our personal stories and expose our vulnerable side, only to emerge stronger.


“We took a huge leap … but it was absolutely a risk worth taking”- Sheyda Bautista-Saeyan.


Being in the top Business School is a great achievement and opportunity, but it is an impeccable challenge, nonetheless. There are risks at every step, and you cannot avoid these. The risk-taking game begins right when you decide upon pursuing an MBA, and it continues through post-MBA goal(s) selection, relocation, curriculum designing, recruiting, connecting with the community, leveraging leadership opportunities, and every single class and group discussion. It is daunting, exhilarating, and even tiring; but most importantly, it is rewarding at the end of the day.


“I used to think that risks were scary and overwhelming, but at Wharton, risks became exciting, and I found myself over the two years looking for ways to stretch myself”, said Sheyda, and we believe that this is the very attitude that made her what she is today … one of the most well-rounded Whartonites and truly one of the ‘MBA Best & Brightest’.


Sheyda mentioned that a lot of her inspiration is derived from her mother, a native citizen of Iran, who had to flee from her homeland during the 1979 revolution, at the tender age of eighteen … a huge risk to ensure that she herself, and her family, had a better life and future in the United States.


“She (Sheyda’s mother) could no longer dress how she wanted to, or study what she wanted to in school, and once she and her family realized that they will never return back to a state of normalcy or back to a place that they once called “home”, they packed up their things and started a new life in America”, Sheyda mentioned. Sheyda’s mother had to learn new skills and raise her family in an unfamiliar place, but looking at Sheyda today, we know that it was a risk worth taking.


Sadly, Sheyda’s mum passed away, unexpectedly, two days before she was scheduled to start college. Now, Sheyda was eighteen and had to take her own risks and make her own decisions without the greatest support system in the world – her mother. She had to choose between deferring college for a year, to seek comfort around her other relatives, and starting a new chapter in her life, risking breaking down into tears amidst strangers. A courageous daughter of a brave woman, Sheyda obviously chose the latter option, destined to become a great source of inspiration for a much broader community.


“I learned from my mom that these challenges are worth overcoming, and because of her I pushed forward and started school not knowing where I would land”, said Sheyda.


After being a Biology Major during her undergrad, and completing an internship in Hospital Management, Sheyda recognized her interest in the intersection of Healthcare and Management. Managing operations and facilitating strategic growth in the Healthcare industry intrigued her. To understand the thought process of executives, Sheyda went into Consulting, post undergrad. She worked for four years at a research and advisory firm at Washington DC. At this firm, she got exposure to executive decision-making, and she wanted to crystallize her management acumen at a business school. So, Sheyda decided to pursue an MBA and risked leaving the workforce. At Wharton, Sheyda is a Healthcare Management Major. After Graduation, she will be working at DaVita in Los Angeles. Sheyda will help increase access and quality of  at-home dialysis.


At Wharton, Sheyda always tried to find way to develop, professionally and personally. She was immensely impressed by the offerings of the McNulty Leadership Program Office. She participated in the Executive Coaching program and the P3 program, and recalls them to be the best formal ways of self-reflection, a skill she did not expect would be such a big part of the business school experience. She also mentioned travelling to ten countries in first year itself, including Cuba, Mexico, Ghana, Nigeria, Egypt, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Chile, and Philippines, to augment her international understanding.


“The Wharton community reinforces risk taking by always being there for one another and pushing each other to grow”, Sheyda recollected, “I think about this time when I let my friends convince me (that) I should jump off these ten feet cliffs to these huge bodies of water in the Philippines; I am terrified of swimming, but they were always in front of me, cheering me on when I had the courage to jump”, Sheyda recalled, “I am only one story, and I am consistently impressed and inspired by the risks our classmates take”.


Sheyda’s story encourages us to take risks, to leap forward head-on, and to lead in unprecedented uncertainty. Today, more than ever before, we need people like Sheyda, people who show us that it is okay to suddenly find yourself in an unfamiliar environment, it is okay to feel scared, it is okay to be unsure, and it is okay to take risks, not knowing what the future will be like. Today, we do not know what the world will look like tomorrow, the entire equilibrium is shaken, and in these unpredictable times, the only thing that we can do with certainty is take risks. Today, the risks we take, for a better future and the good of the entire human race, are the risks worth taking.



Spring into Action with a New Recipe!

Shrimp Spring Rolls

Vietnamese spring rolls were adapted from Chinese spring rolls. During the Eastern Jin Dynasty in China (265 to 420 AD), people made mini cake wraps with vegetables to welcome the onset of spring. Biting into a veggie-filled spring roll was believed to bring good fortune for a bountiful harvest. Overtime, spring cakes evolved into rolls and underwent adaptations throughout Asia.


SERVES: 4 PREP: 30 min COOK: 50 min


Spring Rolls Dipping Sauce
1 lb shrimp (36/40 size) 

½ lb pork leg 

1 head green leaf lettuce

2 – 3 sprigs of mint

1 small bunch chives

1 pack rice paper

1 pack rice vermicelli (starchless)

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp garlic
  • 8 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 2 ½ tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 cup water
  • Optional: chili paste

Dipping Sauce

  1. Mince 2 tbsp of garlic.
  2. Use medium heat to heat up your pain with 2 tbsp of oil. Sauté the minced garlic until fragrant. Turn heat to low.
  3. Add in 8 tbsp hoisin sauce, 2 ½ tbsp peanut butter, and 1 cup water. Stir well.
  4. Bring to boil, turn off, heat, and let cool.

Spring Rolls

  1. Place ½ lb pork leg into a small pot and fill the pot with water to ~1.5 inches above the pork. Add 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp sugar. 
  2. Bring to a boil on high heat then lower to medium-high for ~30 min Check that the pork leg is no longer pink in the middle.
  3. Peel the shrimp shells and remove tails. Devein the shrimp if needed.
  4. Fill a pot with water, add ½ tsp salt, and bring to a boil. Add the shrimp. Boil for ~2 min on medium high until the shrimp is no longer translucent in the middle.
  5. Cook ⅓ of the rice vermicelli package according to packet instructions. Drain and cool noodles under cold running water.
  6. Add some warm water to a large bowl to dip the rice paper in. Dip each rice paper sheet and ensure it’s wet evenly for ~5 seconds before making each roll. Place rice paper onto a flat plate.
  7. Add 3 shrimp near the bottom and leave about 1 – 1.5 inch of space on each side.
  8. Layer 2 – 3 leaves of lettuce, a few mint leaves, and chive leaf near the middle. Add pork on top of the veggies. Layer a small bundle of noodles evenly atop the pork.
  9. Fold the sides in so it’s snug. Then fold the bottom up to cover the rice noodles. Keep the roll tight, so lightly squeeze it together as you roll. 

Check out her cookbook: Hometown Flavors: Vietnamese Recipes with Vibrant Origins

Fresh Spring Roll, Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls With Lettuce, Bea
Fresh Spring Roll, Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls with lettuce, bean sprouts, vermicelli noodles and shrimps served with peanut dipping sauce on a black slate tray, view from above, flatlay, close-up

A Vietnamese Family’s Escape: “Eat ‘til you’re full”

From the perspective of my mom, Huỳnh Lan Phương

My mom served every meal saying, “ăn cho no.” Eat ‘til you’re full. Our family always had eaten until we were full until 1975.

I was 16 when the Việt Cộng declared victory and an end to the Vietnam War. But for my family, and countless others, the end seemed far from sight. My father died a few years ago, so it was up to my widowed mother to steer me and her three other children through the war’s aftermath. This time was not kind to most. Under the thumb of the Việt Cộng, our family business was shut down. Food was scarce. “Ăn cho no” (eat ‘til you’re full) became foreign words to us and I could see the heartbreak in my mom’s eyes. Banks refused any withdrawals and any attempt would be taxed at 100%. With what little we had, we fled south to my family’s hometown, Bến Tre, in 1977.

Life under the Việt Cộng was getting harder. In 1979, I met Khánh at school and we started dating. Four months into our relationship, Khánh was adamant that we flee to a safer country. Hundreds of thousands of southern Vietnamese were detained and tortured in re-education camps. Many more were forcibly relocated to wastelands. One day, the Việt Cộng barged into our home, took our valuables, and left us shaking in fear. We knew we’d never feel safe in Vietnam. We arranged twice for local fishermen to smuggle us out of the country in the dead of night. We were cheated twice. We lost 4 gold bars, an equivalent to 3 years of savings. Escaping required more. We sold everything we had left and ate just enough to live

Undeterred, Khánh set off to build his own boat, picking up work as an understudy at a fishing company. Within 6months 

he crafted a boat large enough for 30. Not just for our large families, but an ex-navy sailor as our captain and 16 strangers who paid us to join. From the youngest at 6, to the oldest at 41, we 30 were bound together in our escape. To get caught was to die.

At 5 am on November 11, we all made it to the boat undetected. But more dangerous journeys lay ahead. We set sail silently into the bay. It did not take long for the Việt Cộng guardsmen to spot our escape. Alarms sounded as they dispatched their ships. Gunfire followed soon after. Between the rapid blasts of gunfire and the monsoon season’s tumultuous waves, it seemed death awaited us whichever direction we steered. I wanted to go forward. Death by the sea was preferable to death at the hands of the Việt Cộng. When the monsoon waves got bigger, they retreated.

By our second day at sea, we were rationing banana peels to fight the hunger pangs. We grew weak, but there were graver dangers out at sea. Thai pirates often captured refugee boats in the night, taking what they could – be it our belongings or even our bodies. My mom shaved my and my sisters’ heads in hopes that we’d be mistaken for men. I couldn’t stop thinking about how I might die. By hunger, sexual assault, or the gun.

By the third day, we caught a glimpse of a large commercial shipping boat. We shot our flares. No response. Another day passed by. We were out of emergency guns, food, and gasoline. We counted 51 commercial and cruise ships pass us by. No rescue in sight. We floated aimlessly throughout the fourth day. We laid atop the boat in silence – too weak to move, too hopeless to talk.

On the fifth morning, I was startled by a large flare. A Holland cruise ship moved closer. I was in disbelief. People from their balconies waved and shouted “We’re coming!” I couldn’t comprehend until they threw life vests at us. The Ampsteldiep crew pulled us up using emergency boats and rope ladders. They fed us and offered more food than I’d seen in years. I was overwhelmed by the Dutch’s kindness.

After a few hours, the ship dropped us off at a US-operated refugee camp in Singapore, where we stayed for 3 ½ months. In mid-February of 1980, the organization gave us our first plane tickets to the US. As we settled into our new home and made our first meal, we finally heard “ăn cho no” again.

1979, Photo taken by Ampsteldiep crew members before taking our family onto their ship


We Want You to Write for the Wharton Journal!

WG’21 Welcome to Wharton!  As the Editor-in-Chief of the school’s newspaper I want to tell you that we need writers, content managers, and marketers. Our goal is to be the voice of the school’s student-body.  Launching a start-up?  We’ll give you some free publicity.  Having a cool event?  We’ll tell people about it.  Have a thoughtful opinion?  We’ll get it out to the school.  We’re here for you!

In order for us to succeed in our mission, we need people who are committed to the journal and will produce content.  The journal was once a weekly newspaper, and my goal is to get it back to that periodicity.  To do that, we need people to write for us, and marketers to get us advertisers (producing the journal is not cheap).  We’re going to have an organizational meeting early in the school year so please stay tuned for an announcement.

In the meantime, do not hesitate to contact us at  Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@whartonjournal) and on Facebook (The Wharton Journal).  We also publish online at