Daniel Horgan – CEO and Founder of CoLabl and the Talent Accelerator

Daniel Horgan Founder and CEO CoLabL
About Daniel Horgan

A volunteer role with a YMCA summer camp at the age of 12 sparked Daniel’s passion for service and building community. At the age of 18, Daniel pioneered the first youth-led Community of Promise in Pittsburgh under Retired General Colin Powell’s national America’s Promise movement, landing him a seat on the national board of directors and recognition from President George W. Bush.

Daniel (@HorganDaniel) has over 20 years of experience working in the business and nonprofit sectors, fueled by his commitment to increasing others’ access to relationships and opportunities that transform their lives.

He has worked with companies of all sizes including the world’s largest global brands like Nike, Starbucks, and LinkedIn, some of the largest school districts, national and local nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Daniel has proudly served on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils including City Year DC, the Community Foundation of the National Capital Region, Team Kids, and the Greater Pittsburgh Nonprofit Partnership.

Named one of Pittsburgh’s 40 Under 40 Honorees, Daniel has keynoted dozens of conferences and training seminars and is the author of Tell Me I Can’t…and I Will. He currently resides in Arlington VA.

Connect with Daniel: Email | Linkedin | Website | Twitter

Listen Now

Listen to the episode now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or on your favourite podcast platform.

Resources Mentioned

Zig Ziglar


The Talent Accelerator

Situational based leadership

The Transcript

**Please note that all of our transcriptions come from rev.com and are 80% accurate. We’re grateful for the robots that make this possible and realize that it’s not a perfect process.

Sam Demma (00:00):
Welcome back to another episode of the high performing educator podcast. This is your host and youth speaker, Sam Demma, today’s guest Daniel Horgan is someone who I had the chance to work very closely with throughout the entire summer of 2020. He contracted me to do some facilitation, some keynote speaking, and some workshops for his programs that you hear a lot about in today’s episode. And as our working relationship built our personal relationship built as well. And today I’m super, super honored and excited to call Daniel a close friend, and you’ll see why on this episode, he’s up to some amazing work and doing some great things, a volunteer role with the YMCA summer camp at the age of 12 is what sparked Daniel’s passion for service and building community at the age of 18 Daniel pioneered the first youth led community of promise in Pittsburgh under the retired general Colin Powell, his national America’s promise movement, landing him a seat on the national board of directors and recognition from president George W. Bush.

Sam Demma (01:02):
Daniel has over 20 years of experience working in the business and nonprofit sectors fueled by his commitment to increasing others, access to relationships and opportunities that transform their lives at CoLabL. Daniel is working at the intersection of talent development and community building with this specific focus on creating and facilitating brand relationship and skill building experiences that support existing and future talent. He has worked with some of the world’s largest brands, including Starbucks, Nike, apple, LinkedIn, school districts, national and local nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Daniel has proudly served on several nonprofit boards and advisory councils, including city year DC, the community foundation of the national capital region team kids and the greater Pittsburgh nonprofit partnership. He was named one of Pittsburgh’s top 40 under 40 honorees, and he has keynoted and facilitated hundreds of conferences and training experiences, published several articles on forbes.com and is the author of “tell me I can’t, and I will.

Sam Demma (01:59):
I’ll tell you, Daniel works very closely with a lot of youth, and if you don’t have a pen and a paper beside you right now, I will encourage you to grab one because you’re going to have a whole page of notes. Here’s the episode with Daniel Horrigan I’ll see you on the other side…

Sam Demma (02:15):
Daniel, thank you so much for coming on the high-performing educator podcast. It’s a huge pleasure to have you on the show. Why don’t you start by sharing a little bit about yourself and why you got into the work you do with young people today? I know it’s a long question.

Daniel Horgan (02:28):
No, absolutely. Well, Sam, first and foremost, thanks so much for having me. I’m a huge fan of the work that you’re doing and I’ve enjoyed collaborating with you. So thanks again for, for having me on quick high-level overview of me. Like, so I started my, I say when I was 11 years old, YMCA summer camp, where my two older brothers were camp counselors. I convinced them to let me not just come to camp, but let me volunteer with the six year olds. And I would say that that really sparked my interest in service and really it sort of set me out on this path to really think about the unique contributions that I have to offer. And, you know, through the years I’ve worked in nonprofit management, running nonprofits, locally and nationally here in the U S spent some time in corporate social responsibility looking at the corporate philanthropy space.

Daniel Horgan (03:14):
And I think employee engagement with capital one and then launched my own consulting company CoLabL which I’ve been running really to help apply all of the lessons that I’ve learned, frankly, over the last 20 years. Like what drives me to do this work is that I see so many young people, especially just not have the social capital that unlocks their awareness of new opportunities or awareness of different paths or experiences that they can take on. And so I just tried to get in front of as many young people as possible, connect them to as many professionals in different pathways and see where it goes from there.

Sam Demma (03:47):
Speaking of connecting young people to professionals, you have a huge milestone to celebrate literally this morning as we’re recording this you want to share a little bit about it and how it kind of came to be.

Daniel Horgan (03:58):
Yeah, absolutely. So I’m super excited for this morning. We crossed a major milestone in matching 278 in Canada, Deloitte volunteers with young leaders all across Canada. Most of these young leaders are ages 18 to around 24. Some of them are in college, some of them were in sort of non traditional post-secondary education pathways. And the goal is that we work to connect these diverse employees with them to explore their career pathways, to share their insights that they’ve gathered through their deployed experiences. You think about like a traditional, the, what employee. They had the opportunity to work with a lot of different clients and a lot of different projects. So they were able to glean a lot of lessons from those experiences. And so we want to create this experience where for one hour, that’s a minimum commitment. We’re asking these Deloitte volunteers to share what they’ve learned and really at the same time, learn from the young people, like let the young leaders shared their questions, share their own unique experiences.

Daniel Horgan (04:57):
And if it sparks something beyond that one hour, that’s amazing. I’ve already gotten a bunch of emails from people that were like, are we allowed to like follow up and have a second meeting? And I was like, yes, you’re absolutely allowed to do that. And so it’s been a pretty cool project. As you can imagine, we sort of skyrocketed when we first launched the program to about 200 volunteers signed up right away, which shows us, I think that there’s a huge appetite and interest among a lot of people to give back and to positively contribute to young leaders on their own.

Sam Demma (05:28):
And you had mentors, I would suppose back when you were going through high school and, and university, and some of those were people that you probably didn’t even meet. I.E. Zig Ziglar, which I read about in your book, do you want to share a little bit about how like mentorship and mentors in your life have played a huge role in your development?

Daniel Horgan (05:48):
Yeah, absolutely. So Sam, it’s so funny, you mentioned Ziglar. I was doing a training last week where this big Ziglar quote came to mind in the middle of this training based on what somebody was saying. And I shared it and somebody was like, oh, tell me, how did you connect them? Like, here’s the story? 20 years ago, I was working all day taking night classes and I lived about 47 minutes away from the university I went to. So my nitride home, I would listen to cassette tapes and they were like, what? But yes, I would pick the set tapes in my car to listen to Zig Ziglar on tape, basically like, you know, just learning and trying to get as much as I could from, from all of his amazing lessons. But what’s interesting about your question to me is when I reflect, I do so much work in the mentorship space.

Daniel Horgan (06:32):
And I think that so many people work here in mentor. They think traditional like big brothers, big sisters one-on-one matches oftentimes for a long period of time. And when I look back on my own life, I don’t think I really had people that I would say, quote unquote, were my mentors. I never referred to them like formal advocates, coaches, devil’s advocates, like people that just challenged me in all sorts of ways and cheered me on when I succeeded, helped me troubleshoot when I was failing at something. And so I think that, you know, whether it was my student council advisor, who would never answer a question with a straight answer, he would always return a question with a question which taught me to be curious or people like the, the Zigler or Oprah or Les brown, who I just, I studied their craft in a way that they were inspiring people and the way that they were serving through their words and through their coaching and trainings. And I think those people had probably the biggest impact on me.

Sam Demma (07:35):
And that’s awesome. And what pushed you into the direction of starting your own work? I think lots of people listening educators are like, had a defining moment when they decided I’m going to get into this work that I’m doing with young people, because it lights a fire in my soul. It’s meaningful. It’s building tomorrow’s leaders. Why did you decide to not pursue corporate work? I know you did for a while, but then take the leap into entrepreneurship and try go full on with this youth empowerment stuff.

Daniel Horgan (08:05):
I think there’s two quick stories I’ll share with you. One is when I volunteered at the YMCA, you, I told you I did it because I was home for like the first two weeks, the one summer where my both of my brothers went to work. And I was like, this is not fun anymore. Like I’m all by myself. I convinced them. And like, I always wanted to follow in their footsteps. And for the first year that I volunteered at the camp, that’s what I did. It was the second year that I went back to the camp when I was 12, I was matched with a young kid named Patrick who had down syndrome. And the entire summer I was matched one-on-one with Patrick. And my goal was to make sure Patrick had like the best summer experience possible. And it was that summer, honestly, that like I learned that it wasn’t about following in someone else’s footsteps, but it was about basically carving out my own path and part of carving out your own path.

Daniel Horgan (08:51):
I think if you’re going to be successful is learning how to the needs, the wants the desires of others so that you can serve in the fullest way possible. And so with Patrick, you know, Patrick parents were super protective and rightfully so. They wanted to make sure that like, he didn’t get hurt, that he was only engaging the things that they thought he could or wanted to do. But then I would see Patrick, while we were sitting on the sidelines and the rest of the kids were playing a game of kickball and Patrick had this look in his eye and they’d be like, do you want to play? Right? And he’s like, yeah. And I’m like, well, let’s play. And he’s like, well, my parents don’t want me to play. They don’t want me to get hurt, like, but you want to play. So let’s just test it.

Daniel Horgan (09:30):
Let’s just see, like, can you bring this to life? Can you bring this interest, this passion for life? And we got them to play. And he had an amazing time. And even his parents over the course of the summer started to realize that you have to make this switch at some point where you’re not following someone else’s chosen path for you, that you are creating and, and, and sort of designing your own experience. And so fast forward in time, you know, I worked in lots of different contexts locally and nationally and incorporate a nonprofit. And I had a coach when I was at capital one who taught me essentially the skill of taking a step back and zooming out to see where in my career at that point was like 15 years in, was I most happy. And what she made me realize was I was most happy when I was creating an entrepreneurial. And so coming out and doing my own thing for me was the space where I could be the most creative, I’m a fast paced person. So like, I like to move quickly. If I see a problem, I want to fix it. I don’t want to like talk about it forever. And so like the ability to test and learn and iterate has been something that I would say continues to fuel. The entrepreneurial spirit within me.

Sam Demma (10:44):
That’s such an amazing, it’s such an amazing story and example to highlight that point. And I think a lot of educators can relate in the sense that, you know, in life they might’ve been going along. And then they had a defining moment where they decided, you know what? I want to teach these young people. When they first start teaching, they have this idea that, you know, I have to follow the curriculum a hundred percent and make sure I get all of these lessons done in this amount of time. And then as I, as they progressed, and as I’ve talked to more veteran educators, they tell me, you know, if I could go back, the piece of advice I would give myself was to go off. The beaten path was to serve the students, not really, and not relating to what’s on the agenda today, but for what they need today, if during our discussion, something came up, you know, I had to veer off track is that’s the best way to serve them.

Sam Demma (11:32):
And it’s like you said, you have to stop following the rubric or the agenda or the footsteps of others, and just carve your own path based on those desires and needs of others, which is a, such a sort of fascinating point. And all the educators listening could probably relate. If you could think back to when you were in school, did you have any teachers or educators in your life who deeply impacted you? For me, it was my grade toll road issues teacher who opened up my eyes to different possibilities and social impact. I know you’re not that old, so it’s not too long ago, but is there anyone that comes to mind?

Daniel Horgan (12:11):
Yeah, I mean, I would say I mentioned him earlier within my student council advisor, who also taught a leadership class at my high school. So it’s, it’s funny, like doing the work I do now. I am a naturally introverted to where I get my energy is like through my own sort of individual reflection and sort of learning process. And so I was like re and I also went to like a much, much smaller school and then transitioned to a campus style high school that had like 1500 people in my class. So it was like a very big learning curve for me and an adjustment. And I were not like my first year and a half, I was pretty much like just went to class, you know, did well in school and just like do what I needed to do. And like, just didn’t want to be noticed to be honest.

Daniel Horgan (12:55):
And my locker was right outside of Mr. Meyers is his name, Mr. Myers, his office. And like halfway through that school year, my sophomore year, he started talking to me about student council and like all these activities. And he’s like, Hey, you know, you should get involved in some of this stuff. And I was like me, like, why would I go? Like, I just didn’t see it. But like, I think he saw something in me and the way that like we interacted each day. And then we, I said hi to him and have small chat. And I think what I would share with you in terms of that question is Mr. Meyers convinced me this next semester to take his leadership class, which unlocked for me, like an entirely different understanding of leadership. We, I remember clearly the handouts on situational based leadership and how you apply different leadership strategies to different contexts.

Daniel Horgan (13:40):
And it made me realize that, like, I don’t have to be the, you know, the outspoken person in charge all the time. Like I can be in different contexts playing different roles. Then he also got me, encouraged me to take forensics, which was like speech and debate where I started like taking on different acting roles and competing on the weekends in these states. And what high would in hindsight, like, I didn’t know it at the time, but when he was doing with getting me to come out of my shell and he was trying to do it in a way that was like, take on a different character and like compete in the acting thing. Right. It’s not, you it’s like somebody else that your TA and I would take on these crazy characters because it was totally not me. And it felt like I could do that.

Daniel Horgan (14:20):
Right. But then I started translating it to leading workshops, but he had me do it like the local and then state level. And I went on to like lead a statewide camp for middle school kids. And it was all about his training, right. He was slowly patiently coaching me, seeing within me something I didn’t see in myself and challenging me with questions instead of telling me what to do, which is today is like my top advice for educators and mentors is lead with questions and curiosity and bring the answers out of people because oftentimes students and young people, especially they have the answer, they know what they want to do. They just haven’t given them themselves permission to do it.

Sam Demma (15:04):
That’s such a good reflection. And I’m thinking about situations in my life, even like on a personal note where you might want to tell someone your advice, but it’s probably a lot wiser and more impactful to ask a question and help that person come to a realization themselves. Even if it’s not the answer you were looking for. That’s a great piece of advice and I need to hear, and I hope anyone listening needs to hear it as well.

Daniel Horgan (15:25):
Yeah. It’s hard to do, but you can do it with practice.

Sam Demma (15:29):
Small patient challenges like your teacher. That’s amazing. Since then, you know, and you’ve developed, you’ve developed and delivered, I’m sure hundreds of sessions, you know, maybe even thousands by now, what have you learned one about facilitating to young people and impacting youth, but also virtually cause I know you’ve, you’ve been doing a lot of work virtually and one of the things that educators are struggling with is engaging young people virtually and you know, you know, every time you do a presentation, you probably learn something new, learn something different, the more online presentation you give, you learn something new. Have you had any realizations, has anything stuck that you’ve, you’ve figured out that you think might be worth sharing with an educator who teaches a virtual class?

Daniel Horgan (16:14):
Yeah. I mean, my number one tip that I’ve been sharing lately is when, when COVID hit and so much of the world, I mean, my business completely went from being in person. I was in like three different cities a week. So like all of a sudden doing everything a hundred percent virtually. So like I got stuck in the trap in the very first, I would say months where I was just like constantly researching and trying to find like every trick in the book around virtual learning, virtual engagement and like tested things out in different, in different formats. And what I realized was that it’s not about the tricks. It really is about an authentic connection with the audience, quote unquote, right? With the students, if the students feel your vulnerability and the way that you’re teaching, coaching, being curious, they will connect with you and stay engaged with you in whatever experience you’re creating.

Daniel Horgan (17:07):
And so I would say, you know, focus less on like the tricks and more on the authentic connection. And then second I would say, which is one of my favorite Maya Angelo quotes, you know, peop students, well, from an educator’s perspective, students will forget what you said. They’ll forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel. And so what I always try to reflect on when I create, or I’m speaking or doing training experiences, if it’s the experience that you’re creating, that is going to pull them in to, how do you want that student to feel in that virtual context? And how are you tapping into, by being curious how they’re feeling? Right. So like if you’re a student who now all of a sudden can’t see their friends as much and don’t have the social interaction in the school building and are trying to adjust to this whole new virtual world as well, like lean into the fact that we’re all in this together, lean into the authentic stories of what you’re navigating and what you’re going through and where you fail or where you try something that doesn’t work and share those funny stories and what you’ve learned from it, with your students and invite them to share with you in return.

Daniel Horgan (18:17):
And it creates a common bond. And I always say that common bond recreates the foundation upon which you can build that relationship. And that relationship is so pivotal for, I think, any educator to be, you know, an effective instructor and an effective mentor to these students.

Sam Demma (18:32):
That’s awesome. I love that. And you’ve been doing this for a while. I had the pleasure of working with you on the talent accelerator, which is a phenomenal program for young people who are working on their professional development and career development. Would you mind sharing a little bit about that specific program and how it works?

Daniel Horgan (18:50):
Yeah, totally. So the talent accelerator was launched. I say the silver lining of COVID, right? So a lot of the companies that I work with in a lot of the communities around the U S they were canceling their summer internships or job opportunities for young people. And the reality is just economically. A lot of young people rely on these experiences for the funds to support their next semester of school or the miscellaneous expenses tied to books or transportation, things like that. And also these experiences are what gives young people an opportunity to test different career pathways and decide what they want to pursue or don’t want to pursue. And so the town accelerator, we created a virtual experience where students are engaging in project based learning assignments related to different career pathways. Each project takes about 10 to 15 hours and students, they pick their course.

Daniel Horgan (19:38):
So they pick which projects they’re most interested in. They work through the project, learning about in the research section, all about the context, seeing examples, then they get to create something, their own original work, which is a way for students to build up their portfolio and sort of showcase the value that they can bring to potential employers. And then the opportunity to gather feedback. So every student is matched with a group of coaches who are employee volunteers from different companies, representing different industries, functions and levels. And so the idea again, is that students are, are creating something. They’re getting feedback, they’re getting coaching. The number one takeaway that you know, Sam and I, when we work on this over the summer as a pilot with 460, that’s quite a pilot, we learned to let Mike one of the key takeaways, then the student’s feedback was so many of them had not had practice or a lot of experience presenting.

Daniel Horgan (20:30):
And so the idea of presenting in front of their peers, presenting in front of professionals, getting real time, coaching and feedback. It enabled them to not just develop that skillset, but boost their confidence, knowing that their voice mattered and their creative ideas could unlock other opportunities. And so again, I think the most educators listening I’m sure will relate to the experiential learning. The project based learning design of the talent accelerator is I think what really pulls the students in because it’s not somebody just lecturing at them. It’s a real experience. Self-Directed learning. Like we’re not teaching them. It they’re sort of teaching themselves. And then reflecting back to us, their application of learning

Sam Demma (21:10):
So true. And you can see the improvement of these students after they finished and the smile on their face after they finished their presentation, the, the feeling of teaching and seeing a student or young person grow is such a fulfilling feeling. And the TA talent accelerator does a great job at just allowing kids to build themselves up in all areas of their life. And if someone’s listening and thinking, you know, Daniel’s a really cool guy. I would agree. What would be the best way for them to reach out? Maybe just ask a question or have a conversation with you.

Daniel Horgan (21:43):
Yeah. So they could definitely reach me by email. It’s just Daniel@colabl.com, or they can check out our website, colabl.com or on Twitter @HortonDaniel. So love to connect with anyone who’s interested in.

Sam Demma (21:57):
Awesome. Dan, thanks so much for coming on the show. It’s been a huge pleasure having you on and we’ll stay in touch and hopefully do some more work in the future.

Daniel Horgan (22:04):
Absolutely. Thanks Sam.

Sam Demma (22:06):
And there you have it. The full interview and conversation with my good friend, Daniel Horgan. If you enjoyed this episode, consider taking two seconds to leave a rating and review on the show. It’ll help more high performing educators, just like you find this content and benefit from hearing it. And if you do have something that you want to share, some insights or inspirational stories of transformation in education, please shoot me an email info@samdemma.com and we’ll get you on the show as a guest as well. Anyways, I’ll see you on the next episode. Talk soon.

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