Trust should be top of mind for any executive trying to navigate the minefields of today’s business environment. The Page Society and Business Roundtable Institute for Corporate Ethicsreport on corporate trust offers great insights into how organizations are wrestling with this issue and what key questions CEOs and CCOs now face about public trust in business. I had the opportunity to take part in this research and believe that now, more than ever, the corporate world must recognize a mindshift is mandatory in how companies attempt to preserve and build long-term relationships with their core constituents – customers, employees, investors and community members.

Given today’s business landscape of skepticism and wariness, trust, transparency, and authenticity are critical sources of competitive advantage. Even organizations like Apple – enjoying high levels of credibility, a “most admired” status, and a strong reputation – cannot afford to lose competitiveness by depleting the trust of their core constituents.

In light of this, it was surprising and disappointing to observe Apple mishandling the issue of CEO Steve Jobs’ health. The timing and tone of Apple’s communications surrounding Jobs’ illness has been nothing short of unacceptable. As I stated in my article today in PR News access to equity markets comes at a cost and, as a publicly traded company, Apple must acknowledge its responsibility and act with a sense of accountability.

This case serves as a great example of what the Page report tells organizations and communicators to be cautious about. As a (former) investor and (current) customer of Apple, (I’m writing this on my MacBook Pro, and have used Apple products since their first introduction in the 1980s), I find the disparity between Apple’s marketing messages (which seem so transparent, responsible, and constituency-focused) and the company’s corporate communications activities (inconsistent, detached, obscure, and inconsiderate) to be remarkable. This stark contrast calls Apple’s broader authenticity into question, even for an Apple loyalist like me.

Perhaps the most troublesome issue, and what I consider to be a very serious problem for Apple going forward, is the company’s inability to adhere to baseline regulatory requirements in disclosing information to its investors, despite the flood of criticism recently unleashed in its direction. I appeared on CNBC last week to discuss this issue with a panel of experts and the global debate has continued, with heavyweights like Warren Buffet, New York Times’ Joe Nocera, and Silicon Alley Insider’s Henry Blodget weighing in and agreeing that proper disclosure did not occur. To me, the chronology of real-life events is very simple to track and explain: Steve Jobs got pancreatic cancer, it spread to his liver, he got a transplant in Tennessee, and supposedly went back to work today. Is it THAT hard to be honest about this chain of events?

Apple missed a significant opportunity to “talk plain” and hold an open and truthful conversation with its constituents. Clearly, had the company kept us properly up to date on the issue, it would have only enhanced our perception of what Fortune has called the most admired company in its annual survey for two years running. (Let’s not divert the discussion now, but we all know that the Fortune poll is just “popularity contest” of sorts — a poll of CCOs, not CEOs, coupled with some financial data and a bit of CSR thrown into the mix.)

Instead, Apple opted for a cagey, opaque approach. The company first said Jobs had a hormonal imbalance, projected his blood pressure on a screen behind him at a speech in gargantuan font to underscore his good health, put him on a leave, said the situation was “more complicated,” then held back information about his transplant. So, maybe the company will win the legal battle of whether or not this information was material because Jobs was on leave, but who cares? What really matters is a single question: can I trust a company, especially one whose reputation is based in large part on its CEO (like Martha Stewart, Sir Richard Branson and Oprah), when it very clearly lies to me, then tries to justify that lie through a slight of hand? This isn’t a question of following the letter of the law, but its spirit—and by doing so, keeping constituents feeling engaged and good about their relationship with an “admirable” company.

Until CEOs and CCOs fully recognize the importance of trust, and their mandate to preserve and enhance it with their constituents (as outlined in the Page Society’s report), the reputation of big business will continue its endless, downward slide. It’s never too late to say you are sorry, and it’s never too late to take a more transparent and trustworthy approach to communicating with key constituents and the world at large. As a feel-good, household brand, trust should be embedded at the center of Apple’s core—in everything it does, and everything it says it does. Without that emphasis on openness and trust, Apple’s sheen will be lost. Innovative products and an addictive brand won’t last forever—a company must be founded on something more lasting and meaningful. I ask Steve Jobs and Apple to set an example by coming clean, apologizing to all constituencies, and embracing the concepts from the Page Society’s Authentic Enterprise and its new Trust Report.