Laura Rittenhouse, known for her research into the candor of CEOs, has just released a new book, 20 Buffett Bites, expanding on 20 lessons she found in a single letter of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) Warren Buffett -- his most recent one, for fiscal 2008. (A dedicated and motivated management is critical to successful investments.)

Let's review some of Buffett's nuggets.

  • Buffett noted that lumping together all of Berkshire's businesses makes them harder to understand, so he breaks them into four major operating segments. Rittenhouse praised him for breaking out each segment's numbers, pointing out that by helping his shareholders (and others) analyze the company, he builds trust.
  • Buffett noted that the MidAmerican subsidiary's pipeline businesses dramatically improved their customer satisfaction ratings over the past seven years, saying the gains happened "because hundreds of people at each operation committed themselves to a new culture and then delivered on their commitment." Rittenhouse rightly pointed out how important a company's culture can be to its success: "Healthy corporate cultures create investor wealth; toxic cultures destroy it."
  • Buffett is unusual among CEOs in another way: frequently admitting mistakes. This year, he said he regretted buying ConocoPhillips when oil was near a peak price. Rittenhouse noted, "By confessing how he goofed, Buffett shows us what he has learned."

Open CEOs
Buffett's candor reminded me of JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM) CEO Jamie Dimon's recent letter to shareholders, extolled by Buffett at his annual shareholder meeting. Whereas many CEO letters take up just one or two pages of an annual report, Dimon went on for 28 pages, discussing his company's performance and prospects and explaining what went wrong in the financial markets and how such catastrophes might be avoided in the future. Dimon, like Buffett, went into detail on each of his firm's business units, such as investment banking and card services. He was also similarly frank: "We do not expect 2009 to be a good year for the credit card business."

That echoes the recent words of Wells Fargo's (NYSE:WFC) candid CEO, John Stumpf: "If you're a pessimist, there's a lot for you to like about 2009. It will be a rough year for our economy and our industry. Consumer loans will continue under stress ... [and] charge-offs (uncollectible debt) probably will continue to rise."

Also impressive is Eaton (NYSE:ETN) CEO Alexander Cutler, who spent much of his letter breaking down the performance of the various business divisions and explaining that he, too, expects challenges in 2009, and that to deal with them, he's had to let many employees go. (He thanked them in his letter.)

While it's easy to assume that Buffett stands alone as a straight-shooting CEO, he actually has some company. And we'd do well to seek out companies with CEOs who inspire us and inspire trust.

Commitments deliver
The improvement in Berkshire's pipeline businesses at MidAmerican was truly inspiring, and a great reminder of how effective it can be for anyone or a group of people to commit to a new vision and then act accordingly to realize it. Employees decided they wanted to be at the top of the customer satisfaction list and then believed in themselves. (It would appear that some effective leadership was at work, too.) We too can improve our lives via new commitments. Commit to become a better investor, for example -- perhaps by reading some great books on the subject.

Speaking of leadership, notice that Buffett publicly praised the group for its achievement in his letter. He often sings the praises of various managers and employee groups who have done very well for the company. This takes very little time, but can be a terrific motivator, increasing employees' dedication and loyalty.

Errors and lessons
Regarding Buffett's "mistake," it's important to realize that not even Buffett can make the right calls all the time. His decision had reasoning behind it, and he didn't know the price of oil would fall. We can't know what a stock (or oil prices, usually) will do in the short term.

I can easily think of many similar errors I've made. I didn't sell any of my Time Warner (NYSE:TWX) shares when I was sitting on a 70-fold gain. More recently, I sold shares of International Paper (NYSE:IP) prematurely after a sharp drop. No investor is perfect. But if you learn from your mistakes, you'll do well in the long run.

The best thing about following Buffett is that you learn something new all the time. You don't have to be a Berkshire shareholder to benefit from his wisdom.

Learn more in Buffett's letters, in Rittenhouse's book, and in these articles:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares ofBerkshire Hathaway and Time Warner. The Fool owns shares ofBerkshire Hathaway, which is a  Motley Fool Inside Value  recommendation and a  Stock Advisor  pick.Try our investing newsletters free for 30 days.The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.